This post is by Mandy Farmer, a blogger/author/advocate who writes for the blog From Motherhood. She and her husband have three kids under seven years old. Their middle son is on the autism spectrum. She writes about autism, motherhood and military family life. You can also find Mandy on Facebook here. Would you like to submit a guest blog to our site? Submit your guest blog to us here.
I see posts and articles frequently about public outing nightmares with children with autism. I relate to almost every single one of them. I have noticed that most of them aren’t about a meltdown at Disney World or the park, it’s almost always the grocery store or some other mundane outing that isn’t a nice to have, it’s a must have. We all have to buy groceries. We all have to drop our children off at school. We all have to go to medical appointments. The list of have-to-haves goes on and on. Lining up childcare every time we have to do one of these things is just not realistic and can get very expensive. Not only that, but some of our children have such severe separation anxiety that leaving them with someone is equally as traumatic as an outing.
We have the issue that anytime we go into a store, our son gets highly anxious about the loud speaker and the beeping at the registers. So much so that he usually throws things when it’s time to check out, or covers his ears and cries when they use the loud speaker. He also gets very upset if there is another child crying (even if that child is three aisles over) and it can send him into a tailspin from which we cannot always recover.
With all of these problem behaviors occurring frequently when we go out, people outside of our world might wonder why we ever go out with our children if it isn’t completely necessary. Why do we subject ourselves to the stares and comments that cut so deep. Why don’t we, for instance, leave our son at home with one parent and the other parent can take out the other two? Why don’t I always do my grocery shopping while all three children are at preschool? Why do we attempt the park when we know the end result will probably be dragging a kicking and screaming child to the car?
I know our son would be perfectly content to sit in the living room and play with all of his favorite toys over and over again. His anxiety would be next to nothing and his overall mood would improve. When we were home sick last week with very few outings and next to no transitions our days were nearly meltdown free. So why don’t we homeschool, get a sitter for all of our necessary outings, and stop all of our therapies? There are a few reasons we make the choice not to lock ourselves up inside the house and avoid the new and unfamiliar all together.
First of all, staying shut away is not an option in the real world. If we expect our children to mature and learn coping mechanisms they need to practice. If we expect them to be able to go to the grocery store and buy food for themselves someday, we cannot avoid noisy places all together. We have to work through the experience, even if it does appear to be disastrous to onlookers. Actually, sometimes our outings might look like disasters, but were ten times better than the last one and we bask in the joy of that progress.
Another reason we will never stop going out is because our children (both our neurotypical children and our son on the spectrum) deserve to have fun too. Don’t get me wrong, we plan our outings very carefully and generally try to work them so we don’t have much waiting and to make it as predictable as possible. But even so, we cannot plan for every circumstance and if we have to wait a little longer than planned or go a different direction, you might have to witness a meltdown. But it’s worth it. It’s worth it to me to chance that he might cry and scream because we are having to leave the zoo after we have already walked through it twice if the benefit means watching him jump up and down with excitement at experiencing a new animal. It’s worth it to me to get out of our house and see him have a better store outing than the last time or to see him try a new thing with his siblings by his side and enjoy it.
So there you have it. We cannot live in fear of the next meltdown, otherwise our children would never experience the world. We cannot hide our children in order to make the world feel more comfortable, otherwise no one will ever learn about or accept their differences. We cannot stop going out anymore than we can stop living. And we will never stop.
Kerry Magro, a professional speaker and best-selling author who is also on the autism spectrum started the nonprofit KFM Making a Difference in 2011 to help students with autism receive scholarship aid to pursue a post-secondary education.
Have Kerry, one of the only professionally accredited speakers on the spectrum in the country, speak at your next event by sending him an inquiry here. If you have a referral for someone who many want him to speak please reach out as well! Kerry speaks with schools, businesses, government agencies, colleges, nonprofit organizations, parent groups and other special events on topics ranging from employment, how to succeed in college with a learning disability, internal communication, living with autism, bullying prevention, social media best practices, innovation, presentation best practices and much more!