You turn up to playgroup and your child won’t enter the building.
He flatly refuses to enter, cries and begs not to go in but is told firmly and repeatedly that he has to go in, if he doesn’t he is going home and will be ‘in trouble with nanny later.’
Feeling harassed because you need to go shopping and have only two hours to do it in after you drop off your child…the crying is annoying and you’ve already been through hell trying to get him dressed and now you can’t even leave?!
“Autism at its best!” you secretly think as you try to back away one more time while he clings desperately to the door frame screaming “No,no, no!!’
After twenty solid minutes of distress and much bribery, he finally calms down.
You share with a friend over a hurried cup of coffee that it’s getting harder and harder for your child to go anywhere, do anything! All he does is scream, spit and cover his ears.
The friend suggests yeast overgrowth and essential oils as she’s heard ‘somewhere’ they ‘help.’
You want to laugh uproariously as you have already researched and seen debunking information. Not wanting to appear rude you just smile and say: “No he’s just going through a difficult faze, it will be fine, eventually.” Your friend shakes her head sadly.
You grab a pack of cards you know your child collects from a sweet shop nearby as you rush back for pick up, arriving just in time.
Your child comes out and begins to hit you and scream.
You hurriedly produce the cards as a peace offering, he pauses and rips open the packet, rapidly flicking through them and suddenly screaming in anger throwing them in the air and aiming a well-placed punch into your leg.
‘Why did I bother? Why did I?’ You think furiously.
“So strange,” says the play worker shaking her head and gazing at you in horror, “He is fine here.”
Does this scenario ring true?
Let’s try it again, this time from your child’s perspective:
Your child wakes up with a growing sense of dread. He is forced into the playgroup uniform t-shirt which is bright yellow, and he HATEs yellow.
Breakfast is a hurried affair, the light from the window bounces off the shiny kettle on the side giving him sensory overload.
He is told it’s time for playgroup while he’s busy arranging his cars in a neat long line. You swiftly remove the line and put away the cars and now his creation is broken.
He is put into a car that smells strongly of air freshener, the one you bought from the petrol station on your last visit.
The car starts up and he begins to feel sick.
When he reaches the playgroup he doesn’t want to go in…he just doesn’t.
He is still tired, he hates the t-shirt, his eyes still hurt from the glare of the kettle, his perfect lines have been moved, the car stank and now he has to go into a noisy, crowded room with 20 other children.
He tries to communicate without verbalizing, “No, I don’t want to go in, please don’t make me!” But no matter how much he protests he is not allowed to refuse. He begs and cries, holding his ears as the sound grows louder…his own sound that he just can’t stop.
Three play workers look into his eyes saying “Come on, look at me, it’s ok, come on let’s get up now, it’s time to go in!”
He spits at them because their eye contact hurts and they aren’t listening…no one is listening!
You leave promising to bring him back something and he slowly goes into playgroup, mentally shutting down as a child grabs his hand and pulls him over to the kitchen.
“Let’s play pizza kitchen!” They seemingly bellow, as he accepts that this will be going on for a while. His shut down begins and he moves on auto pilot.
The play workers look on in satisfaction, “See, he’s fine here, must be something at home,” they mutter and nod to each other.
You turn up and your child, now overcome from masking the overload from the sound, light and constant interaction attacks in indignation, trying to tell you that you didn’t listen! You keep, leaving him!
He stops suddenly, you brought him the cards he collects!
“If I can get the one I have been waiting for everything will be ok…it’s in there I just know it,” He thinks while desperately ripping the package open and rapidly flicking through the cards. “The page in my card book will be complete! Everything will be fine! Wait, it’s not here!”
Devastation ensues and the world is ending, control has been taken away from him all day and this was one thing, just the last thing that could have been his and it’s not there…..
What could have been done differently?
Is there a better way to approach the day? If you and I were having coffee, here are strategies I’d suggest for making sure you and your child aren’t at odds:
- Give you child an extra ten minutes once he is awake with a sand timer to show when he needs to get up.
- Allow the line of cars to stay. He is attempting to control his unpredictable day and make himself feel safe. Encourage setting up along a window ledge or somewhere out of the way.
- Sit where your child sits in the morning, squat down to his angle and try to see what could make him squint the way he does. Is the light hitting anything? Could anything be moved? Do what you can to help him avoid sensory overload.
- The uniform t-shirt had a choice of colours but you chose yellow. Why don’t you let your child choose? If this is not an option at your playgroup or school it’s a good idea to speak to them about the possibility of a little flexibility.
- Avoid strong smelling air fresheners as the smell and motion of the vehicle can trigger a nauseous reaction in some with sensory sensitivities.
- Listen to your child, if he does not wish to enter somewhere there’s a reason. Be a detective and find out what it is so you can change it.
- Ear defenders will help lessen auditory onslaught.
- Educate the staff about autism and explain that forced eye contact is painful and should be avoided.
- A transition space before your child enters the play room would be helpful such as a trip to a sensory room or library corner where it’s quiet to prepare him for the prolonged social interaction. Make sure he can be taken there for regular quiet times and sensory breaks.
- The cards? Hope for the best and buy two packs 🙂