When people ask me “How was your Christmas Holiday” I put on my happy face and say “Great!” It is really hard to tell people the truth, that it is actually for the most part, an ordeal for the family. That perfect storm of sensory overload and off routine, inevitably brings out challenging behaviours.
Most people find Christmas somewhat stressful and tiring but they can have a rest once the celebrations are over, maybe sit and read a book or enjoy an afternoon nap or a movie at some point during Christmas break. Not so for us. We have to be constantly on duty, on the lookout for trouble: escape seeking, candle eating, drawer emptying, beverage dumping, sink-clogging, boredom-driven destructive behaviour which if let unchecked evolve into frustration, tantrums, rage, and aggression. Holidays are a daily challenge to manage the behaviour, so that these are minimized.
We have a few tools at our disposal, to help us get through holidays and breaks. N loves a car ride, it is a calming activity, and we have spent hours and hours driving him around this holiday . Thankfully there has been little snow this month and the driving has been safe. My husband does most of the driving, he is an angel to me so that I can get some things done at home.
The other activity that my son loves is jumping on a trampoline. He requests jumping every day, and so I decided to take him to the trampoline park. It was mid Christmas break, Tuesday December 29.
Normally we go to the trampoline park on weekday afternoons when it is not busy. Yesterday it was a very different scene that greeted us. The entrance was littered with jackets, boots and shoes, and the lobby was crowded. Loud music blared as we joined the long lineup to get in. My first thought – oh oh! Mega sensory overload! This could get ugly if N loses it and gets aggressive with me or other people. But he kept repeating “we’re going jumping, we’re going jumping” and he did not seem phased by the commotion. So I decided to give it a try.
Another challenge I anticipated with anxiety was the wait. N does not understand waiting in line. A typical response would be – run away! But on Tuesday, he stayed with me through it. He did become a bit agitated after about 5 minutes, so he started jiggling to calm himself. I call him “Mr Jiggles” when he does that. As his agitation increased, he began hopping up and down, and babbling to himself to self-calm. I distracted him a few times with “patty cakes” which he enjoys.
As always we endure the looks of curious people wondering “WTF”? They don’t get it. They observe a big handsome and healthy-looking youth, whose physical appearance disguises the cognitive age of 18 mon. On Tuesday December 29, I was not paying the stares much attention. I was so glad to see that he could hold his own in difficult circumstances, if he wanted to. He waited 15 minutes in that line!
Just as we arrived at the front of the line, this fat lady who had been at a kiosk registering a waiver of liability abruptly thrust herself in front of us, without explanation, avoiding eye contact with me, ignoring the entire line behind her. It was clear that she couldn’t care less about etiquette, let alone notice the developmental disability of the young man immediately behind her enormous butt. It was ironic, neither individual could wait, but the autistic kid was doing a better job at it than normal stupid.
I met her again, on our way in to the jumping area. We were going up the stairs to the trampolines when she cut in front of me and N, using the physical force of her enormous booty to check us and make her way ahead of us with her two rug rats in tow. She lived in a world apart, it was apparent.
Inside the park it was a crazy free-for-all. The trampoline area was jam packed with crowds of holiday sugar charged kiddies, jumping here there and everywhere. There were many adults there too, some jumping but most of them were aggressively jockeying for a preferred seat on one of the couches that lined the perimeter. Once seated the adults turned their attention to their smart phones, laptops and tablets, for a happy reprieve from child-minding.
Maybe I am just jealous, because I don’t get this kind of break. I am always on high alert, ready to step in when my son crosses the line. In my hyper-attentive mind I see normal stupid all around me while I must watch each special needs action with great diligence.
N typically will jump on the same trampoline space for the duration, with intermittent rest breaks. He would not switch it up, jump around the facility, and would not stray from the perimeter. Yesterday, if he got off the trampoline, somebody else got on it. Ready at all times to intervene, I expected him to get upset, possibly attack the invader, but he did not. He just waited for them to go, while staring at them, incredulous of their hubris. Of course,children could not be expected to understand how to identify special needs and what that means. But the adults in the room, they might be capable of it. So where were they?They were too busy talking, texting, surfing to observe educate oralert.
While most of the jump ons were simply random, there was one child in who took it to another level. She awaited his rest break to jump in and assert herself. It was her demeanour, she was a tween on a power trip. I found myself looking around trying to find the face of the parent. Nobody was looking in our direction. Nick stood and waited, not getting it and unprovoked by the girl. And after the second time, we moved to another trampoline. Once she noticed that he could adjust, she lost interest. Special needs 2: normal stupid 0 !!!!
I say “normal stupid” with tongue-in-cheek. I would not label anybody by a single action at this time of year in particular. The kids are home from school, the holidays are encumbered by extra work, stress, fatigue, and the covert impact of our loss of routine – these extras can bring out less than the best in all of us. We are all normal stupid sometimes. But I have to be proud when special needs shows us up in some small but significant way