Responding to Autism’s Surprises

We are forever learning to be better parents to our children, and that is not different when parenting a child with special needs.  Occasionally, someone from Sage’s school will ask if we have any tips to respond to a certain trigger or behavior, and outside of bonding over our shared helplessness, at times we’ve got nothing.  Sometimes we wing it, probably more often than we would like.  While there are certain things we can prepare for, there are always surprises.

half donna and kids

1. The unexpected loud space:  If we know we’re headed somewhere over-stimulating, we’ll throw a pair of earmuffs or headphones in a purse “just in case.”  Yet, there are places we know we don’t need them.  Enter mistake number one.  Church is a place that isn’t “too loud.”  Well, until last weekend.  No ear muffs.

What helped:  Enter exit strategy.  We walked out the back door and rolled up the arms on Mommy’s jacket since we needed to get out before hers was found.  A friend got a message to my spouse.  Turns out, it was a beautiful day and running through the spiral garden was just the grounding she needed.  Momma caught up with coats and big brother a few minutes later and all was well.

2. The bloody nose:  Oh my gosh!  Sage took a sneaker (with a foot inside) to her nose on the playground, less than five minutes into the trip.  I had two kids and a dog, and there was a decent pouring of blood.  The site of the blood FREAKED HER OUT!  I had one tissue on me, which she quickly bled through.  The screams paralyzed the park and everyone offered to help.  What do you do?  If I had two kids and no dog, I likely would have tried to manage it right there, but with the dog and a park full of attention, the only answer is to flee.  The attention added to the sensory overload already triggered by blood.  The dog attached to my arm made it a little hard for me to play nurse.

What helped:  Giving everyone a job, even my daughter.  She could hold the tissue to her nose, which also required concentration that took her panic down a notch.  My son could hold the dog while I moved us all towards the car.  Leaving the scene minimized the sensory overload.  Extra bonus points that Momma (preferred mom) was at home to help soothe.

3.  The repeat cycle:  Sadly, once the blood stopped and Sage’s spunk returned, there wasn’t any daylight left and we couldn’t return to the park.  Not following the agenda can result in a repeat cycle reminiscent of a scratched 45 (am I dating myself here).  She wants to go back to the park, and right now it isn’t possible.  It’s akin to breaking a promise.

What helped:  Time.  I explained why we couldn’t return, and when I thought we could.  I validated how sad she was, and acknowledged how much she wanted to go back.  Still, while she usually sings herself to sleep, this time she’s crying out for the park.  I can’t fix it, but I can lovingly wait it out and get her back to the park at our first window of opportunity.

As she develops and her needs change, so does how Autism impacts her and how she needs us to respond.  Just when we think we have a routine down, something changes.  I bet that sounds a lot like parenting any child.  We need to accept that we will forever be flying by the seat of our pants, and we just try to have some good humor along the way.  Another plus is when we can remember to thank those who help us through the tough times, and often that helper is big brother.  He needs to get back to the park to finish his play time just as much as she does.  Until we can, thanking him for leaving so easily, and helping all go smoothly, may be all I have to offer.

But then again, it is enough.

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