I do my best to prepare Sydney for outings. I use social stories and visual schedules. Even with all of my preparation. I never know what to expect on our outing.
Yesterday we visited the aquarium. A tradition that we do every year at the beach house. My parents and Harrison joined us. One of the positives of our trip was Sydney purchased a souvenir from a local doll shop all on her own.
The aquarium was crowded and the air conditioning wasn’t working. There were people everywhere and Pee Wee’s Daycare was there for a field trip. I wanted to leave but my dad had purchased our tickets.
The aquarium has three floors and I even was in sensory overload. We started looking at the exhibits and Harrison was a great tour guide. When we made it to a station to touch the starfish, Sydney was having a difficult time. I had to demonstrate the two hand touch for her and remind her not to pick up the starfish. Before I could finish correcting her and review the social story. The young aquarium worker yelled at her for not reading the sign and following directions. I politely let her know that Sydney has autism and if she could kindly look her in the face and repeat the directions please. Now I had the attention of the entire front floor visitors. When I looked around I saw many smiling faces which was nice. The nice girl picked up a starfish for Sydney to touch and I explained that this was such a teachable moment to learn about autism. I used that moment to spread autism awareness to complete strangers.
We moved on and were waiting for the elevator which happened to be near the souvenir section. Chikdren with autism have great memories and thrive on routines. So, a visit to the aquarium means getting a new pair of $5.00 binoculars every year before we exit. This year was different. I’m not sure if it was the heat or the crowd or the slow elevator that triggered her meltdown.
When we were on the elevator, I knew it was coming so I began to remind her to breathe calmly and to squeeze my hands. When we exited the elevator. She began to scream and kick and she broke out in a huge sweat. At this point I was worried that she may have a seizure. Immediately I threw down my purse and kicked off my sandals. I was just like Jon Snow in Game of Thrones ready for the biggest battle yet.
I blocked everyone out. My focus was on Sydney to keep her safe and to calm her down. I knew my parents had Harrison and I could hear him giving his public service announcement on autism to the bystanders. I cradled Sydney on the floor and did deep breathing with her and arm hugs to apply deep pressure. When she was calm we quietly walked out of the aquarium without the binoculars. I’m glad that my parents were there because they could allow Harrison to stay longer.
After an experience like that you are physically and mentally drained. I have had only one hangover and that was on my 40th birthday. And I never wanted to feel that feeling again. The following four steps are useful to help me over An Autism Meltdown Hangover.
1. Take a moment to cry, relax and breath and debrief what happened. See if you can identify the triggers of the meltdown.
2. Take time to connect with your child share how you are feeling and find out your child’s emotions too. Also, let them rest because it is an exhausting experience. Be sure to tell your child that you love them.
3. Don’t feel guilty. Remind yourself of what a great job you are doing as a parent. Don’t let that one event define you.
4. Enjoy a glass of wine. I suggest Dreaming Tree Crush.