“Where are you going?” We’re often asked, as we remove C from an activity, family gathering or party.
“He needs some quiet time.” Our response is met with confusion, a remark that I must need quiet time, or a simple nod of understanding. Maybe I was naïve when I thought it would be easier for others to understand now that he has the autism diagnosis.
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 we learned the hard way. Meltdowns came out of nowhere…or so we thought. The truth is that 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 or becoming physically agitated that they are nearby. 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 is 4, he is 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 autism 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.
Do you schedule breaks for your child (or yourself)? How do you handle people in your life who don’t understand?