The Boy, The Playground and Me

I’ve never been one for playgrounds..

Too crowded. Too noisy. A sensory nightmare.

The squeak of bare legs being forced down a hot metal slide on a summer’s day still makes me shudder as if there’s a hairy-arsed tarantula about to pounce on my face..

When The Boy was younger he hated playgrounds with passion. The first time we put him on a swing he like TOTALLY screamed the place down. Sure, children having tantrums are common place in parks but I’m talking TOTALLY LOSING HIS SHIT meltdowns where people stare at you because it MUST be down to bad parenting, no?

Er, no.

Playgrounds are a danger area for us because of the stimulus. Even now (aged seven) ten minutes is all he can handle before he starts to go into meltdown. Although the stimulus affects him, he likes the playground now. He is a sociable child but the problem is that he is too sociable and doesn’t understand the rules as is the case with autism. It doesn’t matter how young or old the other children are because they are all equal in his eyes and this causes problems..

For instance, on one occasion The Boy ran up to five teenage boys who were hogging the roundabout. He jumped on there with them as if he’d known them all his life. I hesitated to see how they would react to this little interloper but The Boy’s idea of play involves lots of incoherent shouting so it wasn’t long before the teens started nudging each other and laughing, the twats, though to be fair, they were just acting the way that most teenage boys act, it’s just that I’d have given anything for just one of them to show my son some compassion..

The Boy laughed back but had no idea that they were laughing at him. This took place in a matter of seconds but I’d seen enough but as I made my way to him the teens got up and just left him spinning on his own, not that it bothered him. As usual, he was oblivious as to what had taken place..

The thing is that he stands out.

His autism is IN YOUR FACE, autism.

We let him go into playgrounds whenever possible as long as he’s not showing signs of overwhelm before he goes in. We know that he’ll get over-excited pretty quickly so he’s given a ten minute countdown and those minutes seem like hours, believe me. All this on top of my own sensory issues makes it a stressful experience..

The last time he went into a playground was a few months ago. It was the adventure type playground and he homed in on a big rope type roundabout that could take about ten children at a time. My heart sank because I knew what was coming. I have a fluffy sensory toy which I keep in my pocket to calm myself and I stroked it so fast, I practically rendered it bald!

The Boy scrambled on with no qualms whatsoever. Aside my anxiety, I had to marvel at his inability to be apprehensive in certain situations. So, there was a little girl stood next to him and he shouted away to her. He was totally animated but she just stared at him open-mouthed and then asked to be let off. Once again, my son had been rejected only it was me who felt the pain, not him.

OH and I exchanged ‘the look’.

When we’d entered the playground, it was noisy with children screaming and parents chatting. It literally took five minutes for the atmosphere to change. One by one the kids on the roundabout fell silent as they stared at the little boy who excitedly screamed out incoherent babble to nobody in particular..

Then the parents stared at him and started looking around to see who he belonged to.

Er, that’ll be us, folks.

We knew he wasn’t going to make ten minutes as he was seconds away from meltdown and I wasn’t far behind having one of my own, so we grabbed him and left.

I didn’t look behind me because I didn’t want to see the judgmental looks on the faces of people who haven’t got a clue about our lives or his. I’ve seen those looks too many times and each time it hurts. I physically and emotionally hurt for my son..

So, I slammed the gate shut and pulled him close, mentally effing at the lot of them for not seeing my beautiful boy as I see him.

The blessing is that he is unaware of the way people stare. I was aware from the age of five so I’m glad he’s been spared for as long as he has but the day will come when he does notice and being different and knowing you’re different is hard. You’re forever having to work at appearing ‘normal’ and I pray that my son remains oblivious of people’s intolerance and ignorance for as long as is possible.

Those five minutes in the playground are still bothering me, obviously because I’m writing about it months later. It’s in my head now, logged with all the other ‘incidents’ and it makes me sad that some people show more compassion for their cars than they do human beings, especially vulnerable ones who could really do with their support..

Here’s a thought..

How about people stop staring and start supporting these kids?

Why shouldn’t my son express himself in the way that is natural to him? He’s not hurting anybody. It’s not an aggressive reaction. What people see is happiness minus the filters. To me, it’s beautiful. He is beautiful. It isn’t him that needs to change, it’s society.

“How would your life be different if…You stopped making negative judgmental assumptions about people you encounter? Let today be the day…You look for the good in everyone you meet and respect their journey.”~ Steve Maraboli ~ Life, the Truth and Being Free

Creative Commons Image Via Pixabay

 

Spectrum Sunday

 

Hello Hurricane

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I HATE this time of year. It’s the time where things start to change as the school prepares for the new term in September which I remember only too well from my own school days.

*Twitch*

When it comes to The Boy, there is a pattern. He starts the school year in a state of anxiety and by Easter he begins to settle down. After the last half-term things start to deteriorate as preparations for the new school year begin. This year has been different because he hasn’t really settled at all. He is increasingly unable to do his lessons in the classroom and ‘incidents’ are happening on a daily basis.

The school can’t try any harder than they do to support him. They are always thinking of new things to try and whatever isn’t working they change. It’s just that school life is getting harder and he struggles with having to do things that he doesn’t want to do (demand avoidance) but he has to do certain things or there is no point him being in mainstream and despite his difficulties he’s happy there.

He’s been struggling at home as well and the other week he had the MOTHER of all meltdowns.

A fellow autism mum and good friend used the word ‘hurricane’ and that nailed it perfectly for me. It certainly looked like a hurricane had hit his bedroom.. At one point he was in danger of hurting himself so I intervened whereas I usually allow him to work through the meltdown himself. It was then he started yanking at my hair (which farking hurt) and slapping me. As a parent you take the blows because you understand that your child is out of control due to being overwhelmed and you’d rather they hurt you than themselves. It’s a reaction. It doesn’t make it OK. It just explains it.

As soon as I felt his body relax, I stepped back and allowed him space to calm down.

The storm had passed, for now.

To hear the child you love scream that he hates you and wants to die is hard to take. It’s hard for ANY parent to take. No matter how many times he loses it, it never gets any easier. It’s not you they hate. It’s how loss of control makes them feel.

There was this moment where he declared he was ‘going to die’ and theatrically threw himself face-down on his bed. It the best bit of am-dram I’ve ever seen and at any other time it would have been hilarious but he was hyperventilating and knowing how this works I’m pretty sure that at THAT moment he probably did think he was dying…

He is theatrical in the normal way. He is expressive with a wonderful vocabulary range. If he can learn to get a handle on his anxiety, he will make a good actor one day (and there are lots of great actors on the spectrum) but this wasn’t a performance. It was real. It was him struggling against the tsunami of emotions within him and it was heartbreaking to witness.

This meltdown was a result of preparations starting for the new class. It’s a bigger class size and a new teacher. He was worried about it but didn’t know how to express it in a positive way so it came out in a meltdown. He has since visited the new class and THEY HAVE LEGO, FOLKS so he came out smiling.  An added bonus is that one of his teachers from this year is also going to be teaching in the new class along with the new one. So the familiarity of her and his long suffering SST (who hopefully will follow him up through school as long as he needs her) will help to lessen his anxiety. The school are using social stories and the usual strategies to help him with the transition but the real test will be when he goes back in September.

The last few weeks of the summer term are all about change and change is one of the things in life that he doesn’t handle well. Even the nice changes do his head in. However, I have faith in the school that they will do their best for him but most of all I feel sorry for my son who is struggling with the fear of change, just like I did. SODDING GENETICS!

It’s never easy for me to write about my son this way but it’s part of his autism and the meltdowns are part of our life, at least, they are for now. The meltdowns are not who he is. They are a reaction to a world that he struggles to cope with. If his world was constant there would be fewer meltdowns but it isn’t constant. Things change. Sometimes unexpectedly and sometimes planned but changes ALWAYS affect him.

The thought which consoles me the most is that he is not alone like I was. Nobody helped me because nobody ever knew there was a problem. I was the invisible girl when it came to the teachers but not invisible when it came to bullies. I stood out like a belisha beacon to those bastards…

My boy’s autism is IN YOUR FACE visible and the positive thing about that is that it gets him the help he needs.

We’re strapping ourselves for a fight to get him to where he needs to be. My bandana is on. I don’t have Sly Stone’s biceps (or penis) but I’m strong where it counts. My anxiety is sky-high but I’m working on that, like triple-bagging my cups of Chamomile tea and taking time in my day to stare at fluffy clouds and tropical fish.

Breathe, just breathe.

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Got Through Another Meltdown!

Image Credit Via Creative Commons

Sons, Sand & Sauvignon

 

 

A Difficult Week

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One of the Boy’s biggest problem areas at school is playtime. This isn’t surprising as the playground is crowded and noisy – not to mention the unpredictability of unstructured play which autistic children struggle to cope with. He is a sociable child, it’s just that he struggles with the social rules that govern our society especially those which are unwritten.

Last Thursday we learned he’d had a ‘tricky’ afternoon. He’d been throwing stuff and pushing tables over in the classroom. There was no obvious reason for his behaviour, as is often the case. As usual I worried because this kind of behaviour tells me something is wrong. There’s always a reason for challenging behaviour so we tried to talk to The Boy about what had upset him but within seconds he started screeching like an owl so knew we left it. However, the following day we had our answer…

The Boy has been friends with a boy in his class and for the last few months it’s been ALL about this child. However, we were informed last week that the child’s parents had been into school to make a complaint against our son. They said their son had gone home saying that The Boy had hurt him at playtime. What their son didn’t tell them was that he (along with another child) provoked a reaction from The Boy by deliberately and repeatedly poking him. The reason The Boy had a meltdown in the classroom was because he was responding to what had happened on the yard. Unable to verbalize how he felt, he reacted in the only way he knows how and that’s to lash out.

All complaints are taken seriously by the school and an investigation took place. Witnesses said The Boy had been provoked and reacted to it.

I managed a small conversation with The Boy and he simply said his friend had ‘kicked him out of his group’ and told him he didn’t want to be his friend anymore.

My heart sank as all parent’s hearts sink when their child is ostracized in this manner.

Children fall in and out of friendships and there is nothing unusual about that but it’s no secret that The Boy has autism and there’s always a niggle of doubt about parents not wanting their children to have a friendship with him. This isn’t me being neurotic. The ‘niggles’ aren’t unfounded as it’s already happened with a parent who stopped talking to me as soon as I told her The Boy had been diagnosed with autism. The next day she looked straight through me as if I wasn’t there and after a few days of the same treatment it finally dawned on me why she was blanking me. It was the autism.

Is that what’s happened here? I don’t know. I do accept that I am overly sensitive at the best of times but, in my mind, most boys of this age will have scuffles on the playground and several times a week at that. Whatever The Boy did on the yard wasn’t considered serious enough for parents to be informed as is the policy when one child significantly hurts another yet these parents felt it necessary to complain so, yes, I can’t help but wonder why.

My son doesn’t instigate. He’s not vindictive nor a bully but he does react when provoked and I don’t blame him. All I can do is try and encourage him to walk away next time but as any autism parent knows, this is an impossible ask.

The loss of this friendship was a big deal for him but it explains the recent decline in his behaviour at school and at home. Had it not been for the child’s parents going in to complain we may still be wondering what the problem is so, in that respect, they did us a favour though I can’t help but wonder how it felt for them to learn that their son wasn’t the victim at all. That, actually, he was the instigator.

Children of this age normally drift in and out of friendships. Most parents will have experienced the ‘friends one minute and falling out the next’ only to be the best of friends again a few day later but from experience, I know that some autistic children are unable to forgive as easily as a neurotypical child and incidents are rarely forgotten. They remain in their memories for the rest of their lives.

Friendship is a difficult area for autistic people. Some make friends easily but struggle to maintain friendships. Others struggle to make friends in the first place. The Boy makes friends easily enough but there does seem to be difficulty in maintaining those friendships. Some children are unable to deal with his mood swings and steer clear of him. Sometimes he drifts in and out of friendships mostly because a child isn’t willing to play games on his terms, as is common in autism.

Those children who understand his autism (thanks to understanding parents) take it in their stride. They know he has meltdowns and why he has them and they don’t make a massive deal about it. They focus on the part of him that makes them want to be his friend in the first place. Those are the friends he needs.

We’re all social beings – even us misfits – and that’s why you’ll find us lurking on the internet where we can feel that we belong because people speak our language. Even I, Mrs Misfit of Misfitington, have a deep seated need to fit into this world in some meaningful way. It’s primeval instinct, after all.

All I want is for my son to feel that he belongs here because we all belong here. God willing, there will always be a special friend who will watch his back as well as their own.

“Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind.
“Pooh!” he whispered.
“Yes, Piglet?”
“Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s paw. “I just wanted to be sure of you.”~ A.A Milne

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Sons, Sand & Sauvignon