Mall Rituals.

We are walking in to the mall.  Despite all the progress with language, behavior, and speech, we still have routines to which we adhere pretty consistently.  I go with the flow of these to make it through without too much drama.  First comes the ritual of entering.  You would think we had consulted with mystics to learn the dark secrets of the sacred mall entry.  Nah, the little guy has created his rituals on his own.

As soon as we hit the sidewalk from the parking lot, my son ditches me and runs  for the entry doors. He pushes the “handicapped” buttons to enter two sets of doors into the mall.  Each of the double doors has two sets of buttons, one to enter and one to exit.  He has to push all of them, in order.  The outer door has the familiar symbol on a blue square button. He pushes that.  Sometimes, he quizzes me as to its color.  Other times, he gives me a pass.

As we wait for the door to slowly make its way to “open”, he then reaches around and pushes a bright red circular button intended for use by those exiting out the same door.  He always either comments on the circular shape or the color, or quizzes me on either or both.  I do take some comfort in knowing that, in the event I have a stroke and forget my colors or shapes, someone will be there to rescue me from my confusion for the rest of my days.

Next, he pushes a second blue square button to enter the next door.  As the door opens, he straddles the doorway and pushes the rectangular blue button for exiting customers.  He often blocks the doorway for me and all who are waiting behind me.  At this point and I have to usher him forward.

Upon entering our “temple”, we make our way through the maze of clothing and tables of merchandise toward the coffee shop.  The walk is nearly always uneventful these days.  Dare I say, it’s normal.  But once we hit the second ritual, getting mommy’s tea, in the line at the coffee shop, all cover of normality leaves our general vicinity.

Some of the fragile items I must pass by with my son while in line...

In place of normalcy, I am graced with a child who believes that if he stops moving, the world will end. Truly, whether the line is one person or ten people in front of us, he must pace, circle, walk the full length of the floor tiles and back or try to swing on the metal rope dividing the “orderers” from the “post order waiting”.  Most of the time, he will circle me like I am the sun and he is the planet Mercury.  If he had a rope, while circling me like this, I would end up laid on railroad tracks for the next train.

When I am finally called to place my order, he tries to leave.  Without fail, I have to call his name and tell him to “get back over here.” If I had a button that said “get back over here”, that would work better, since buttons are actually interesting to him.  Once the order is placed, I wait for the tea.  He wanders away.  He orbits.  He circles near a display of glass and porcelain tea kettles and coffee cups, making sure to have his hand outstretched to graze each object and unsteady it as he passes by.  I intervene, by necessity.  Finally, I am called and we leave.

We head down the hallways.  Even though Thanksgiving has not yet arrived, there are dozens of “holiday events” and crowds of hundreds of people in the mall.  He is unfazed by it all.  We perform the obligatory “one up and one down” escalator and elevator ritual, a cutback from the five to ten trips I used to make with him in days past.

I seem to focus on all that is hard.  I don’t think about the easy parts.  The walk from the ritualistic door to the coffee shop.  The walking through crowds of people.  The loud sounds that used to send him into sensory overload – every – single- trip and end in meltdowns.

We still have our days of tears and ritualistic behavior.  Shouting out colors.  Swearing “fire truck” at the lines.  Touching anything and everything I fear he will break, or hurt himself upon.  But now? We can walk the full length of the mall.  Sometimes, a new fear will pop up, like cars from dealerships displayed inside the mall. He is both fascinated and in fear of them.  He passes these by, yanking on my hand, and pulling me to the other side of the walkway.  Yet, with trepidation, he inches over toward them, pushing me back at arm’s length, lest I start one when he is not looking.

If I think back, I see tremendous growth.  I remember the days of forcing him in a stroller when he was far too big to fit, to keep him from running away or breaking things.  And even with the “quarantine”  (or because of it) he would still have meltdowns with every trip there.

He could not talk to me then.  He would give me a word or two, a phrase and frustration.  Now, he tells me what he wants to avoid, and where he wants to go.  He understands when I take him on an errand that is not what he desires and he goes it without protest, as long as it doesn’t take too long.  We compromise.

We walked by the center of the mall and saw the display for Santa.  I asked if he will sit with Santa and tell him what he wants this year.  He is confident that he will bend Santa’s ear.  This conversation alone is far beyond what we have done in years past.

Meanwhile, I’m just happy to walk out, tear-free, with the same ritual of button pushing we did when we came in.  It means he is coping with more sensory stimulation each day.  It all adds up.  And even though we’re different from the other moms and kids, I’m good with that.  I’ve never been a big conformist anyway.


About solodialogue

I'm a lawyer and the mom of a 6 year old boy with autism. I work part time and spend the rest driving here and there and everywhere for my son's various therapies. Instead of trying cases, I now play Pac-man and watch SpongeBob. I wear old sweaters and jeans and always, always flat shoes to run after my son. Yeah, it's different but I wouldn't change it for anything. The love of my child is the most powerful, beautiful and rewarding aspect of my life.
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24 Responses to Mall Rituals.

  1. Fantastic. Malls can be SO tough for our kids on the spectrum. I love hearing how well the kids are able to use their coping skills. Some days are better than others, and WORSE than we could have every imagined. Here’s to having more great outings 🙂

  2. blogginglily says:

    OH! A local charity in Pittsburgh, called ABOARD is hosting a couple hours at the mall with Santa for kids on the spectrum. Your post made me think of it! Music turned down low, lights dimmed, appointment times, so no lines to wait in. . . GOLDEN.

    You think he’ll sit on Santa’s lap?

    • solodialogue says:

      Wow – that is sooo cool! It would be great if someplace around here did that. I will have to bug some people… You have inspired me! (And not really sure about the lap thing… in the general vicinity of the Santa bench would be good! )

  3. Flannery says:

    I’ve also been meaning to right a post about all the growth and skill development, but haven’t gotten to it yet. It’s an odd feeling, to be pleased with all those subtle changes, yet still very aware of the remaining challenges.

    Mine too is of the belief that time and space would cease if his movement were to cease. To have half that energy…I can’t even imagine how much I could accomplish.

    Can’t wait to hear about the visit with the Fat Man….and pictures, don’t forget pictures!

    • solodialogue says:

      It is an odd feeling, isn’t it? Yeah, all that energy would make my metabolism good enough for at least one more In-N-Out burger, don’t you think? 😉
      We’ll see if he actually goes through with it or runs when the real thing is in front of him! Don’t worry – either way, it’ll be a post! 🙂

  4. Teresa says:

    I own a cool Santa Suit and have an amazing son that wears it, if you need photos and a visit with the Big Man.
    You are very funny after a couple of days off. I’m reading you, laughing and not going to the gym.
    It makes me happy to read that you are recognizing & reaping the rewards of the hard work of the past year.

    • solodialogue says:

      That is such a cool offer! Watch out, I may take you up on that! I hope he is ready for T because he may feel like he’s just had a little Tazmanian Devil whirl around him! I’m glad you see the humor in it all… Progress is always awesome – weight loss or otherwise. 😉

      • Teresa says:

        We got the Santa suit when my nephews, born 1lb 6oz and 1lb 10oz were housebound the first two winters of their lives. Christopher IS Santa all year long. He even says HOHOHO as naturally as Scrooge said humbug. We’ll be in Asia from 11/20 -12/15 so let me know if you need a visit.

      • solodialogue says:

        You are so good to us! I will let you know but we’ll probably just go with running away from the mall Santa… makes for a good blog post! 😉 xoxo

  5. Teresa says:

    Matthew and I used to walk at our mall. We could only walk two times. Once downstairs and once upstairs because if Matthew went past the door we entered he would make a beeline for it. We would always go early before stores opened and with only the other mall walkers it was quiet enough for Matthew to focus. At one point we worked on allowing Matthew to go up and down the escalator by himself. Needless to say that was always a frightening time for mom as I would wonder how fast I race up the escalator after him should he take off. Even today when we visit the mall or department store we have to wait for the wheelchair door to open.
    For years we had a Santa who could sign and was especially good with special needs kids. The emotion of sitting with Santa was always too much for Matthew but if we went before there was a line of kids he would come talk to Matthew.

    • solodialogue says:

      That is impressive to let Matthew go up and down the escalator by himself!! I can just imagine how you felt though trying to gauge how fast you could get up or down if need be!! I’m assuming you did not need to do a run!!

      I have to laugh at the similarity between Matthew and T in going through the handicapped door! What is it about the buttons and the door?!

      We shall see if my son actually makes it through the Santa visit… 🙂

  6. Pudding loves malls, and I (usually) witness her best behavior there. Did you read my post last year on Santa? I kind of demanded (and received) special treatment and we got whisked to the front of the line for Santa, it was still tough though. If they have a Sensory Santa in your area, it would probably be worth it. We might have another visit from Santa Daddy this year. 🙂
    And off-topic, we’ll be doing an EEG and MRI soon, I need to ask you for tips!

  7. Grace says:

    I think your son is on a good path. When I read your posts about 5-year-old Tootles, I think of where my son was when he was 5, and where he is now that he’s 8. There has been some nice progress. I’m very hopeful that the same thing will happen for you and your son. I really think it will.

    I love how your son curses. And who can blame him?? When there are 10 people standing between me and my coffee, I curse too.

    • solodialogue says:

      Me too! I’m glad to hear that you see progress with your son from where I stand now. I think – hokey as it sounds – we kind of reach out to each other to help us up the hurdles. And, of course, especially with you, to laugh along the way. 🙂

  8. Lizbeth says:

    So good to take a peek back and remember where you were. Sometimes I think doing that makes it easier to move forward.

    And don’t forget to snap a picture or two of Tootles and the Fake Santa. My kids cringe at the mention–thank God for small favors.

    • solodialogue says:

      You are so right about looking back to see forward…

      I don’t actually believe we’ll make it through a Santa visit but it’s worth a try – and you can bet the pics will be posted!

  9. Lana Rush says:

    Tootles has come a long way, baby! Yes there’s more to do but good for him!

    And speaking of rituals, Miss Karen, how about your “ritual” visit to the coffee shop for your tea?? This isn’t the first time I’ve heard you mention the coffee shop…. Just teasing you, we all have our little rituals we love. 🙂

    • solodialogue says:

      Haha! Busted! I’ve often blogged about my love for vanilla chai tea. It’s my one absolute necessity. If I was trapped on a desert island, as long as I had my kid and my chai, I’d be good with that. 😉

  10. Some day, we’re gonna walk from one end of the mall to the other… some day. Right now, we’re lucky if we can get the stroller past the play land! LOL (lucky for me, the play land is right next to the Starbucks).

    T has come REALLY REALLY far. I’d love any pointers on how you got him there!

    • solodialogue says:

      Of course you will! We got to the point that he would tip the stroller when I left him unattended for 10 seconds! He would reach for something and, being too heavy, it would turn on its side. Luckily, no injuries but I quit using it after the 2nd time that happened! He literally grew out of it.

      I wish I had pointers. All I can say is that I wonder how far we could have come without ABA – they have worked miracles with him and they are a blessing. So, I guess, 35-40 hours a week of hard core ABA! And patience! 🙂

  11. eof737 says:

    One day at a time…one precious day at a time. Your journey with Tootles touches my heart. You are a supermom in my book. 🙂
    I’m working on catching up again after a hectic workshop week again. 🙂

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