Last weekend, I decided to be spontaneous with my boys, and try something different for us. I was inspired after being unintentionally reminded, that morning, that Bank of America account holders are granted the perk of free access to museums every first full weekend of each month. With a discount and a destination, I figured we’d go for it. My husband was going to be working, so the ratio of adult to child felt scarily low, yes, even though I only have two. They can be very challenging! When ADHD and autism rear their heads at exactly the same moment, I better be ready to think fast about how to handle the situation, or something manageable can become a screaming match in seconds. Somehow this morning, it just felt right. So we headed to the aquarium.
Usually when I am alone with the boys, things go something like this:
Lucas can’t have something exactly his way. He starts flailing his arms and legs, throws himself on the floor to escape the person trying to hold him back from it, starts screeching a shrilled repetition of grunts and protest, which increase in volume during every second that passes without proper coaching to employ the techniques we’ve learned in therapy. Things and people get kicked in his rage, possibly bit, items around start to get knocked over. People start staring.
Meanwhile, Omar begins walking away, getting into something he shouldn’t, too far to hear my calls for help with Lucas. Then he starts making his own sounds, to entertain himself. Making it harder to hear me asking him to come back and give me the thing in the diaper bag that I know might help to calm Lucas down.
More people start staring, I try desperately to maintain a slow steady rhythm of breathing so I don’t burst into a yelling fit, that somehow feels it will make this overwhelmingly difficult moment more in my control.
In true fashion, said scene plays out at the aquarium. I finally get Lucas to listen to me about taking deep breaths himself. He imitates me taking them with his lips quivering, and tears still rolling down mid cheek. We negotiate how we can address his need within a reasonable context. Turns out what he wanted was a blue paper that laid on the floor of the first exhibit, amidst onlookers’ feet. It was perfect to him. His favorite color. Blue. With letters on it, pictures on it, and it was a familiar shape, a rectangle. In his eyes, it was in danger of getting stepped on or maybe picked up by someone else who viewed it as the wonder that he did. His extreme behaviors all came from the thought that he wasn’t going to be able to grab that blue rectangular paper, advertising dolphin tours at another part of the museum. Phew! Major meltdown averted. Luckily, what he wanted was simple and easily doable, this time.
From then on, with blue paper in hand, we were able to mostly enjoy the rest of our trip. I have been tending to avoid going to places like this when I’m the only adult present for the challenging parts. They often make me frustratedly question why I try at all. And, I had just finished deciding that I wasn’t going to apologize anymore about my son’s behaviors, and this a very public venue to experience any of that in. I’ll be honest. There was a lot of biting my tongue to not apologize. I had to fight the urge to explain my son to everyone often. But it was worth it. Not explaining him was wonderful. Not expecting him to behave the way “neurotypical” kids do was a whole new world for us. So what if he wanted to lie down everywhere and sit on the floor and be upside down? So what if his biggest pleasure was showing each animal on display his important blue paper? He had fun, he had freedom, he wasn’t boxed in by the person who is supposed to be his safety and love him more than any human.
And my older son? He stepped up to the plate big time as a great help and awesome big brother. Though, I can still see him looking around at everyone wondering what they think. Mostly, he is smirking thinking we all look crazy to everyone around us. For example, Lucas will yell things like “there’s something in my penis!” I quietly remind him that we say “bathroom please,” when we have to do peepee or caca. Hey, he is using communication with words to stay dry!!!! He is letting us know before it is too late. This is huge! We haven’t had an accident in toileting for over a week! I want to jump up and down and scream hallelujah, while the people in earshot of him are probably commenting on his choice of words. Or maybe they aren’t.
The point is, I was able to enjoy my family and our experience so much more than past outings, because, I am learning to really accept who my son is. I am letting him be who he is. Of course I still set the boundaries and expectations that are appropriate. But, they look different for him. That is ok. He is unique. We are all unique. We should all be so lucky to be so unafraid to be ourselves.
We were never meant to be perfect. Maybe perfect wouldn’t be as rewarding as it sounds anyway. Here’s our imperfect family photo for the day. A passerby so kindly offered to take our photo. I had to tell her, “don’t worry if he’s not looking. Just please take the picture anyway.” She took several, and here’s our best. Not perfect by the standards of us all looking, but it’s perfect to me.