|This kid does not want to go home.|
Charlie Safari is a paradise filled with mini-golf, giant bounce houses, a three story obstacle course with multi-level slides, a two story laser tag arena, video games, birthday rooms, and pizza. It's heaven on Earth for kids. Any "regular" child will hate to leave this place after just a few minutes inside. Back when my wife was in school, my dad and I decided to meet up and take all the kids to their favorite play land. Up until this day, my dad had not spent any significant amount of time with Noah since his diagnosis. None of my family had.
When it was time to leave, I could tell I was in trouble when I saw how over heated and over stimulated Noah was. He seemed to be running completely on auto pilot albeit a completely erratic flight pattern. After making a few attempts in vein to negotiate with Noah to leave with us - I even to bargain with a trip to McDonalds on the way home - I told my dad to get the rest of this kids ready to go while chased down Noah and removed him from the Charlie Safari. My dad was sure this would not be necessary and suggested I try being a little more stern with him. . . yay, advice!
"Noah! It's time go. Get your shoes and let's go," my dad yelled up to Noah in the obstacle course.
"A-B-C, A-B-C, A-B-C," Noah repeatedly sang as he looked down and laughed. This was something he repeated a lot when he refused to comply with anything. It's hard to explain. Although he's has other words or phrases he prefers now, it's the same kind of feeling you get when it happens today as it was then. It's like Noah has checked out. Like the lights are on but nobody's home. When it happens, I feel frustrated, helpless, and like I've failed as a father. It's hard.
It was time to go get him out of that dang play thing and carry Noah out to the car. It wasn't going to go over well. I braced my dad for the worst but I don't think he really expected what came next. As my dad gathered together the other kids, I retrieved Noah and scooped him up in my arms. Immediately, I was met with ear piercing screams, kicking, and scratching on my arms.
On my way out the front door, as I tried my best to look calm and in control while every grown up in Charlie Safari looked at me like the world's worst dad and stared at my son in disgust of his obviously bratty attitude, one such mom spoke up.
"I don't think that's really necessary." She said with a disapproving look that made me want to claw her face off.
"Well, I don't think you're necessary." Was the best that could come up with.
Once out in the car I wrestled my son into his car seat and received several scratches to the face while strapping him in. Now, I have my dad, not supporting me with calming words of comfort, but loudly trying to discipline Noah to stop while we're driving. Fifteen minutes of kicking, screaming, scratching at his siblings and kicking the front seats. My dad was in silent shock.
When we finally made it home, I was mentally and physically drained. And hurt. My arms were scratched and my morale was gone. And Noah was still screaming. . .
The point isn't that I think my son is some sort of monster, I don't want anyone to think that. The point of this story is that in the moment, when this massive fit is in effect, the parent feels helpless, scrutinized, judged, and angry. For me, its almost impossible to cope and remain calm. And that's a conservative estimate. This is why I designed these cards to give to people in public when they stare at you or say rude and unhelpful crap. Maybe you'll never have to hand them out, but having with you gives you a sense of support and a plan in case things go horribly wrong.
ON the back side of that card, you'll find the following printed:
"My behavior is not because of lack of discipline. Autism affects my ability to understand my environment and usually makes me oversensitive to almost everything. I have an inability to cope with changes in my routine. Because I have a hard time communicating, I often feel frustration. Please be patient with me while I learn to be social. My parents are doing their best. To learn more on Autism, please go to: www.AutismSpeaks.org "