This is just going to end up being a rambling post. Think of it as a little diary entry in my life. Forgive me if it gets a little too rambly.
One of the saddest moments I’ve had as the parent of an autistic child was about a year ago when I sat on a panel with 3 other parents of autistic children. We were talking with non-special ed teachers who were trying learn about autism and how to work with autism children that might be part of their classroom for part or all of the day.
One of the mom’s confessed that she never took her son out in public because of the screaming, crying, running away, etc. I sat there just completely stunned to try to imagine a world where Pookie was holed up in the house virtually all day every day except to go to school.
We don’t do that. Pookie goes anywhere and everywhere.
Sometimes it goes really well. Just yesterday, I took him and Giggles to Menards. He seemed distracted and hurried while walking through the aisles so I stopped him to see if he needed something. He pointed at the bathtubs hanging overhead at the end of the aisle and said some echolalia script about bathtubs. I told him we could check out the tubs before we left and he followed along perfectly the rest of the trip. We looked at the tubs for about 30 seconds and then he was ready to go. He kept touching the stroller, so I let him push Giggles up to the checkout line. While paying, I said (without even looking at him), “Can you put the things in the bag?” and before I finished paying we were all bagged up and ready to go.
But on Friday, we went to watch Wall-E. Pookie got very overstimulated (partly because he was very tired but partly because robots do a lot of beeping). We’ve been to several movies at the theater and his chatter is normally quiet enough that I don’t worry about it being distracting for anybody else. Friday, though, he got very upset and started yelling/crying. I tried to remove him and bring him back in a couple times but he just wasn’t going to settle down. We were at a mall movie theater so we went out into the hall with Giggles and waited for BAGM and Geetle. Once out in the quiet, he calmed down and we had a good time entertaining each other. Movies still are a hit and miss place for Pookie and it seems mostly to be related to his mood going into the theater. But we keep practicing.
There were some things that I could have done that probably would have helped us inside the theater but I was caught off guard and tired and didn’t think about them until after the fact. If this happens to you, just remember that it was one trip. Make a not of those things you can try and get back out there to give it another shot. Repetition, repetition, repetition.
Most trips are somewhere between the two extremes. When he’s excited, we get a lot of hopping and hand flipping. We always get a fair amount of echolalia. Both of which cause a lot of parents to look at us a little oddly. I’ve long gotten over worrying about these glances. I’m sure they are not intended to be offensive and let’s face it we all look at people doing things that are different. Whether that’s dressing odd or wearing too much makeup or walking with strange body movements. Things like that catch our eye so I’m not worried, bothered or embarrassed when Pookie does something that catches attention from someone else. I’m not even bothered when he decides to hug the person next to us in line. Wouldn’t we all like more friendly strangers in the world?
One thing that is definitely true is that we get a lot fewer angry moments during excursions out in the big world today than we did a year ago. We held firm with our belief that Pookie needs to be out and about and it has paid off. In fact, when he gets mad at us at home, he runs to the door and says that he wants to go “bye bye in the car.”
Just like teaching your kids to eat vegetables, the key to teaching an autistic kid, or any kid really, how to survive out in the real world is to get them out in the real world over and over again and explain what is happening and how you expect them to behave and what you expect them to do. The earlier you start and the more often you do it the better off I think you will be in the long run.