Though there are examples to prove the contrary, I am generally amazed at how understanding people are when it comes to our special needs kid.
Carson has come incredibly far with his behaviors. When I compare him today to how he was a few years ago, it’s impossible to not be incredibly proud of his progress. It’s equally difficult to not be emotional about it. He’s so much better and easier to be around now. He’s much more predictable and does what’s expected most of the time. A clearly verbalized road map of expectations from him is a huge help in daily life circumstances.
Nonetheless, with his Autism, there will always be struggles in certain situations. Right or wrong, we do not refrain from taking him places that could result in negative experiences. We refuse to simply not subject him to scenarios that could cause him anxiety. What we do avoid are rock concerts, laser tag birthday parties and long musicals, which will be too much sensory for him (and also viewed as boring). He has limits and we know what they are in most cases.
For the most part, however, we think he does well in most situations. If things get a little hairy, we have enough confidence in him and our abilities to quell situations to redirect him on a productive track.
One of these instances was last weekend’s Christmas parade in Ocean City. We were unable to get to the parade as early as we liked, resulting in us not getting an area to sit curbside on Coastal Highway. Most of the prime areas had already been reserved. From the vantage point we chose near the judge’s stand to watch his brother perform with his school, there were dozens of unoccupied chairs reserving spaces.
This set Carson off. He did not understand the whole reserving spaces concept when the people were not there at that time. He wanted those chairs out of his way. In his mind, they were in his spot.
Some people nearby started asking him questions expecting a response. Are you okay? What’s the matter, easy buddy? I had to briefly explain quietly to them what was happening and how he cannot verbally respond. I had to turn away from him because he doesn’t like being talked about, particularly if it’s in a fashion he perceives as embarrassing. Anxiety is the enemy with Carson because it brings unexpected and irrational behaviors. We were in full blown anxiety attack at this point. There was no reasoning with him for a few minutes. I had to physically hold him back from removing the chairs. At one point, I was wondering what his mom would do. She was walking the parade with Beckett. At one point, I thought about relocating altogether. I wondered how I could pick up our belongings, carry this 100-pound kid across the highway and watch the parade from the top of the Carousel parking garage. It would have been a difficult chore mentally and physically.
In this instance, what our 10-year-old boy wanted was simple – he wanted to watch the parade along the curb as he has done every year as long as I can remember. Though the wish was clear and simple, I was getting tense because I couldn’t find an easy solution as I looked around.
There was one kind couple who cleared out an area near them for Carson to look over the people who would be sitting in front of him. That was incredible of them and it settled him for a few minutes. In hindsight, they should be credited with staving off a complete meltdown. Meanwhile, the problem remained the numerous unfolded chairs in front him without people in them. He just couldn’t understand. It didn’t seem fair to him. The horn sounding the start of the parade only exacerbated the situation.
Once the parade started, the family who had smartly reserved their places returned. One woman (clearly the maternal leader) in the group seemed to immediately sense what was happening with my son. The teary eyes and red face probably gave it away. She was my angel on this day. She saved us. Seemingly against some of her relatives’ wishes, she squeezed her group together allowing enough room for Carson to sit on the curb. Since I had seen some poor decisions and concerning reactions from him during his challenging period, I was on guard the entire parade, always keeping him right next to me. Working the parade and taking pictures would have to be backburned for his sake. Instead I stood in the exact same spot for 90 minutes over him on the curb taking pictures from the exact same vantage point. It may have robbed me of getting more creative shots, but he needed my legs to lean against and hit repeatedly with his back. It was a coping mechanism for him.
I thank all these Good Samaritans who helped me on this day. While it’s true there are many people in this world who have little patience with kids on the spectrum because they are different and their issues cannot always be identifiable, I encountered the opposite among this small group of people. Without their empathy, I doubt Carson and I would have made it through the parade incident free.