It’s difficult to know what it’s like to walk a day in the life of someone who has autism. No matter how many times they explain it, there’s just no way to know the feelings involved because it has to be too intense and difficult to explain. The only experience I can base that assumption off of is witnessing my son each day.
I say this with little verbal knowledge, but from how my son’s emotions dictate his reactions to certain situations. Lately, he cries the entire car ride home from school. I don’t know why, but I’m guessing he’s feeling overwhelmed by the change in his routine. Again, all I can base this on is knowing my child and what will typically cause a meltdown. He usually calms down by the time we get home and he begins the familiar routine there, and I know that I can deal with meltdowns as they occur. One thing I am still trying to grasp is how to handle the situation where he is suffering from sensory overload.
Sensory overload typically occurs when someone is in an environment, or hears a noise, or encounters something that causes over-stimulation. How each person reacts in this situation can differ, but I can give information based on what I’ve experienced with my son.
I don’t always know what is going to cause the sensory overload and I can’t exactly control every environment we walk into. There was a time we were at the store and the customer in front of us was buying a lot of items. Of course this meant a lot of beeping. Elijah was ok at first, but I started to see him begin to grind his teeth and then began tensing his hands by shaking them. I knew something was bothering him and as the beeping continued, he only became more overwhelmed. Once it became too much, he started hitting his ears with both hands and rocking back and forth. I wanted to help him, but I wasn’t sure how to go about it. I tried to imagine how he must be feeling, so maybe I could get an idea of what might be calming. I just couldn’t get my head around how he was feeling in that moment. As he was hitting his ears, people behind me in line were staring at him, mostly with pity in their eyes. They didn’t know why he was reacting that way, and I didn’t need anyone feeling sorry for him. But I realized that I felt sorry for him. I wanted to make him feel better and I had no idea how to do that. I tried talking to him in a calming voice, but he didn’t stop until the beeping stopped. It was like a switch went off and he was okay.
I cannot begin to know how overwhelmed he must have felt. Even if he could explain it, I don’t think he would have really been able to put it into words. This is one of those daily experiences our children face. Sometimes they don’t react to the over-stimulation, but I believe it’s a daily battle. If we go to a crowded place, sometimes Elijah doesn’t react at all… and sometimes he covers his ears until he feels better. I read comments on various blogs and news articles about autism where people have said that parents should just keep their children with autism at home. They feel like its a nuisance to be at a restaurant and have to witness a meltdown. To that I say, try walking a day in their shoes. Imagine you see and feel the world maybe just a little differently than everyone else, and now they all think you shouldn’t be allowed in public. My son’s neurologist has said the very best thing we can do for his sensory overload is to continue taking him out and maybe he will begin to adjust and accept certain situations. I have no problem removing him from the public place he is having a meltdown but I won’t avoid it all together.
Don’t be afraid to bring your children out with you. I know there are varying degrees of severity when it comes to autism, and there are times when safety is a concern. But don’t be concerned with other’s perceptions and opinions because they simply don’t understand. If going to a restaurant or grocery store makes your child happy, why should they be deprived because they may or may not have a meltdown? Sensory overload is always going to be a concern, but it shouldn’t keep us from letting kids be kids.