“Where are you going?” We’re often asked this question when we have to remove our son, C, from an activity, family gathering or a party.
“He needs some quiet time,” we’ll say. Our response is often met with confusion, a remark that I must also need quiet time or a simple nod of understanding. Maybe I was naïve, but I thought it would be easier for others to understand after my son had been diagnosed with autism.
Over the years, we discovered that scheduling breaks to avoid sensory overload is necessary to our son’s success in any non-routine situation. We didn’t always schedule breaks for him and learned the hard way. Meltdowns came out of nowhere — or so we thought. The truth is we didn’t know how to recognize his nonverbal communication.
Now I can see when he starts to get on edge. He clings tightly to a Matchbox vehicle — maybe even one in each hand. Cars and trucks have always been his comfort items. He calms himself by playing with them, resting his head on the ground to study the wheels.
He starts to snap a little at other children, not allowing them to play near him. If his sister is there, he picks an argument with her to place his frustration somewhere “safe.”
Verbal communication diminishes. Baby talk, grunting or whining begins.
Instead of seeking out new toys or playmates, he retreats into his own world. He ignores the kids around him and refuses to let them into his bubble.
Once any of these signs appear, I whisk him away to a quiet place. We call it his “quiet time,” and we go to a quiet room and close the door. He can play with cars or watch a cartoon. When he is able to retreat to a quiet, safe activity, then he finds a way to center himself.
Now that he’s 4, he’s better at telling me what he needs. “I want to go home,” is actually code for, “I have reached my limit.” Time has taught me that making him stay is unfair and, in some cases, can hurt him. Making him stay means forcing his body into sensory overload and discomfort, which will result in explosive meltdowns.
Being a special needs parent has toughened me a bit. I used to care more about what people think, but now the bottom line is this: I need to do what is best for my child.
Follow this journey on Little Mama Jama.