When your child has such a hard time going out in public, you can feel trapped in your own house.
Despite the difficulties, we still would go out… but oh those hand dryers. They made both my son and me want to cry. Cry. Cry Cry!
Today we welcome the dad at Hadyn’s World, who shares how he helped his son become more comfortable with the world around him with his own version of “Operation Mallrat.”
Has anyone ever heard of sensory processing disorder? Well, I sure as hell never did… and when my son, Haydn, was diagnosed with the autism spectrum disorder, Asperger Syndrome, we were also informed that Sensory Processing Disorder would most likely be riding shotgun. Sensory Processing Disorder is pretty much the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever encountered in my life. It sounds like something some sick bastard invented to tell kids to scare them in an attempt to get them to behave.
“You had better eat your vegetables, OR: the sound, smell, sight and texture of just about everything in the world will distract, irritate and annoy you. Always. No matter what. Forever.”
Haydn goes through his life with all of his senses turned up to 11, particularly his hearing. He has always had a difficult time filtering out the noises that clutter up the airwaves. He had problems when he spent time with his cousins (or any other group of kids) when he was younger, which is obvious now, but not as apparent to me at the time. It was about two and a half years ago at the Museum of Natural History when I was formally introduced to Sensory Processing Disorder. We were walking through the Hall of Saurian Dinosaurs, and I noticed a wild-eyed look on Haydn’s face I had never seen before. He kept covering his ears and was getting extremely agitated. I picked him up and carried him to a corner, and after much digging (This was pre-intervention, pre-education, pre-everything. Clueless Daddy-o trying to help a child who couldn’t communicate yet.) He told me there were too many loud voices. So we had to leave. Haydn was unable to spend any time basking in the fossilized awesomeness of the Tyrannosaurus Rex, and that, simply put, is not acceptable.
So, I started Haydn’s Environmental Skills Training .(I just made that up. Sounds very smart-ish and official-ish. Important to maintain the illusion of competency). I took Haydn to Riverside Square (Fancy Mall, if you were to ask him), the least crowded of our local malls. I used my cellphone as a timer, and we went in for three minutes, went back to the car, listened to some music, then went back in for five, and so on. Initially, it did not go so well. We had a few spectacular meltdowns and scared quite a few pregnant women, (What if MY kid is like that?!), but after a few months we were able to work up to a full lap upstairs and downstairs and 15 minutes in Barnes and Noble.
We worked our way through the malls of Bergen County. Same drill at each mall. Lots more sensory issues. Automatic doors freaked him out, but also made him laugh. He started paying very close attention to air conditioning and heating vents. Lights and fans were starting to make a very strong showing. Nothing too terrible. Everything was a distraction, but at least we were out in public. Then the bathroom hand dryers unleashed their thunderous fury on my boy’s hyper-sensitive ears.
The first time we walked past a bathroom and someone was using a dryer, he jumped out of his stroller and stood in the bathroom entrance, screaming at the top of his lungs, hands on his ears with a little jumpy-hand flap thing going as well. A head-butt or two… A little biting anyone? If he had had one, he would have probably beaten me with a bat. I didn’t have an answer for this behavior at first, so we pretty much avoided the bathrooms with loud dryers for a while. During that time Haydn’s Scale of Dryer Awfulness began to take shape. The silver dryers are loud and hurt, but the silver ones with buttons are OK. (No sudden blasts of air). Black dryers are no good. Old, white dryers are very, very loud, but the new white dryers – like the ones at the Madagascar Exhibit at the Bronx Zoo, are nice and quiet. I’m not making this up. Everywhere we go is scouted out for a quiet place to take a leak. It takes a little bit of work to find a friendly bowl when we are out and about, but as far as I’m concerned, everyone has the right to take a leak in peace. We will sort this stuff out when he gets a little older.
Haydn and I put a great deal of time and effort into his environmental skills training, and you will never guess what happened: I created a little Jersey Mall-Rat. He knows girls in stores in all of the malls. Girls who will turn fans on for him when he walks in, (we’ll put an end to that soon enough… for now, we’re just happy to have him out with the other kids), give him lollipops, let him work behind the register, and one “Cookie Lady” at Border’s who keeps a secret stash of sugar cookies for him and cuts the plastic off before handing them over.
And naturally, he wants to go the mall ALL OF THE TIME. I took a child with Asperger Syndrome, serious social anxiety issues and Sensory Processing Disorder and turned him into a New Jersey cliche.
However, my little mall-rat is also a very happy five-year-old who goes out to lunch with his Daddy-o on Sundays to Dave and Buster’s – where we eat and play a few games. We take frequent trips to the Bronx Zoo, Liberty Science Center, Adventure Aquarium, anywhere… On John Lennon’s 70th Birthday we even went to a jam-packed Strawberry Fields to listen to, and sing songs with, the rest of the Beatle maniacs for a few hours. Of course, we run into challenges along the way, but my amazing little boy has, at a very young age, begun to develop coping skills that allow him to engage in situations that are extremely challenging for him… and have lots of fun doing it.
The bar has been raised, and I believe he can handle anything. Haydn will be the one who dictates where and how he makes his scene, not the sensory impact of his environment. Now it’s time to start working on those dryers…
This post originally appeared on Haydn’s World. You can read more there.
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