I keep a pair of earplugs readily located in my epi-pen bag.
Today was a hard day. It was a hard day, and I didn’t handle it as well as I could have.
Today we went to the zoo. He can only handle the zoo in a stroller. He is 7. Without a stroller, he is completely overwhelmed by the crowds and the sheer size of the exhibits.
I see the people staring at me, wondering why that “big kid” who looks “perfectly normal” is in a stroller. I don’t care anymore.
Today he wanted to go to the Dolphin Show.
Until today, I have avoided the Dolphin Show. I know what it’s like in there: it’s going to be echo-y, it’s going to be loud, and it’s going to be crowded. I tried to talk him out of it, but he insisted. He needs to learn these things for himself now that he is 7. He needs to start developing coping skills, even if it means learning what to avoid. And even if it means I know that we are making a tactical day-at-the-zoo error.
We looked for a seat. We had to try three different seats before he was satisfied.
I noticed quite quickly that he was becoming agitated, and the show hadn’t even started. I tried to distract him by pointing out all of the cool stuff that the dolphins, who were just hanging out, were doing. I tried to feed him snacks to keep his mind off of the noise. He could not focus: he told me he didn’t understand why the music was so loud. I gave him the ear plugs, but he pulled them out because he didn’t like how they felt.
When sensory input agitates my son, he starts to get crabby and mean. He was angry with me and with the show. In a very rude tone, he bombarded me with questions: when will the show start? why is it so loud? why is it so crowded? won’t you ask them to make the music quieter?
It’s very hard to explain to a child that his feelings are only a result of his brain not understanding how to deal with what is going on around him.
Things only went downhill from there. Once the show started and the noise was enhanced by an amplified announcer, I should have known better. We should have left. I can not tell you how many people were watching us – how many people wondering why was this kid acting so mean to his mother — why just could not enjoy the Dolphin Show. I am sure it even detracted from their enjoyment of the show. Sometimes I wish he could wear a sign that says,
“I have Sensory Processing Disorder. If I’m loud, or rude, or if I refuse to talk to you, please don’t take it personally”
Try and understand what it would be like if you could not function because the information coming in through your senses was getting stuck in a tape loop and hitting a brick wall when it got to your brain.
Imagine you are a child and the world is scarier for you than for almost everyone else. Think of that kid in your son’s tennis class who is always yelling, the boy in your daughter’s music class who sits in the corner and won’t participate, why that kid in the park can not seem to stay out of your kid’s face.
Before you label him a “bad kid” or the product of “bad parents,” think again. Although he looks PERFECTLY normal on the outside, he’s got a complicated brain. Things that come naturally to you – and to your child – well, he has to learn how to “force” his brain to deal with them. Rather than your judgement, this child needs your empathy and your understanding.
*A version of this post was originally published on Our Land, an amazing series you should check out at Finding Ninee