- Posted April 2, 2013 by
Morgantown, West Virginia
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Living with autism: Out in public
Venturing Out With Bobby
As the mother of an 8 year old son on the more severe end of the autism spectrum, venturing out into the world can be a great challenge. There are only a few public places that my son Bobby can go to without preparation. We rarely have an issues at McDonald's, because, after all, they have his favorite thing in this whole world...the coveted McDonald's french fries.
Even though he loves his french fries, there are a few obstacles that we have to face in order to get this great prize. First, we have to wait in line to order. He has been working with a behavioral therapist on this particular skill of waiting and has come so extremely far in the past 3 months. So, if you see him out in public waiting in line and he is pulling on my arm, bouncing up and down and making noises, I just want you to know the hours of work it has taken him to get this far to where he can stand in line at all. You may think his behavior is horrible, but I am so super proud inside because he is waiting. It has recently "clicked" in his head what waiting means and how it works so that he is in line at all is such a huge accomplishment.
Now that we have ordered, we have to wait for the food to come to the tray and I then have to carry the tray with one hand while I keep a hold of Bobby's hand with my other. You see, he has an extreme tendency to wander and if I don't keep one hand on him at all times, he will very likely run. I also have to make sure that Bobby doesn't take any french fries off of anyone else's table on the way to his seat. If he would by chance steal one of your fries I just want you to know how embarrassed that I am and that I will try and apologize as we are still moving on to our seats, but please do not be upset with him, he just wants a french fry and doesn't understand social norms.
Bless you to the cashier who very often says to me, "Would you like me to bring that to your table?" Yes, more than you can ever imagine, I would LOVE for you to bring that to my table. Thank you so very much! Once we are finally seated and he is eating, all is right with the world for a little while.
Not all public places have this happy ending for Bobby. There are many places that he cannot tolerate at all with Walmart being his biggest nightmare. Once every 6 months or so, we try it again to see if Bobby is ready for this store. We tried again last week and his answer was a big NO. For anyone who saw him in the store on this day, you saw a boy trying with all of his might to get to the automotive department to see the tires and get out the back door. You also saw his father trying to keep a hold of him, calm and quiet him down and get him back through the store to find me and get Bobby to the car.
When you are the parent experiencing this episode you feel like everyone has stopped what they are doing and are watching you and the child. Is the child being abused? Is the child a huge brat? Why can't they keep that kid under control? Well, the simple answer is that he is totally overwhelmed. We aren't actually sure what the real problem is...lights, sounds, smells, the mix of all?? After all, he can go to Target fine, but not Walmart. His behavioral therapist is also working with him on going out in public. So generally when we do go out, we are going out with a specific plan on how to make the whole experience less traumatic for our child.
We go out in public as a family far less than the typical family. We pass on many invitations that we would definitely attend if our family was in a different situation. We also go to events with Bobby along knowing that we are only staying as long as Bobby can handle, even if it is just for minutes. We do this because sometimes we just never know how he is going to react in any situation.
Our favorite way to go out and do activities in public is with our group of autism families from our local support group. Our community has also started stepping up recently to help us with "autism friendly" activities. Our local mall has hosted Sensitive Santa and Sensitive Bunny events so that we can take Bobby to see Santa and the Easter Bunny without the stress of waiting in line and the crowds of holiday shoppers. One of our local swimming pools, which also has a great children's area, has for the past couple of summers opened early on certain days throughout the summer just for people with special needs. These are times that we can take our special needs children out and do fun things that most other children can do without issue. It is so much more relaxing for me to go and let him play in the water without worrying if he is going to be inappropriate and offend someone. He is known to take off his swimwear to announce that he is "all done." Typically if he does this while in a group of other kids with autism, there are too busy doing their own thing to notice. Also, if an autism meltdown occurs, it is so much less embarrassing, because we have all experienced them. Bobby also participates in recreational activities with an organization set up in our community specifically for people with special needs.
There are a couple of things that you should know about me when I am out in public with Bobby. I tend to acquire a couple of autistic tendencies when we are out. I am in my own world with all of my focus on Bobby. I may even look right at you and not see you, I am not ignoring you I am just focusing on the most important thing to me at the time, which is making sure that Bobby is safe. I'm not going to stop and have a conversation with you if I am out with Bobby. He doesn't like to stop and wait, he wants to keep moving and in this phase of learning to walk around a store while holding Mommy's hand, we simply are not at the stage where we can stop and visit with you. I may not follow the social norms when I am out in public with Bobby. When we go to the doctor's office, I ask to wait in the exam room because it is just too much of a challenge to sit in the large exam room with everyone else, especially sick children. He has picked up sippy cups, taken snacks, licked walls and I just don't have to energy to chase him around the waiting room while everyone watches us. Sorry if you are upset that we get to go right back, but you're probably going to be more upset if my child takes off with your babies bottle.
Lastly, one of the most important things that I would like for you to know if we are out in public together....I am NOT, I repeat NOT offended by any questions that your children may have. Please don't be embarrassed if your child asks "what is that thing on his ankle?" or "why does he make those noises?" I will do my best to answer their questions on an age appropriate level and I am not at all upset with them. The thing on his ankle is a Project Lifesaver tracking device that the sheriff's office can use if he ever gets lost and he makes those noises to calm himself down. If the child is old enough I will start the conversation about autism awareness education and tell them that Bobby has autism.