The Field Trip.

It’s that moment that my muscles tense.  I tend to hold my breath a lot – literally – in anticipation.  3, 2, 1.  Cue tears, yelling, wiping the face.

In this instance, we were on a museum field trip.  He was there for the “bones” exhibit.  As this is private school, parents drive the kids.  When we arrived, there was some down time waiting for the others to show up.  He was happy outside, waiting.  In the beginning.  But, put that together with the time inside, and, well, it was too long.

Waiting for classmates.

I had no idea how much Tootles knew about “bones” until we came to an exhibit where he was asked to find the skull, ribs and pelvis.

He put them together like a puzzle.

He wore doctor garb.

Dr. Tootles taking a call…

He brushed a set of giant teeth with a giant brush.

He examined skulls.

And answered questions on a worksheet.

He’d been cooped up in the hot, narrow museum with 50 other kids and their parents for about an hour.  It was loud.  The worksheet had one question for each of 20 exhibit stations.  He made it through 17.

I took him to the restroom.  There he sat on the toilet, weeping.  Each handful of toilet paper was used to wipe his nose and face one time, dropped in the toilet and another was snatched to repeat.  All the while, he yelled for me to tell him a story.

“Mommy to tell you….me – a story about the dinosaur.”

“There was a big dinosaur.  He was happy.  The end”.

“Tell me a story about the dog…cat…turtle…hippo…”  all through tears.  As I told the shortest stories in the history of stories, and waited in the handicapped stall with him, I could hear the door open and close as people came in and out, repeatedly.

It was too much.  “The end” was correct.  It was the end of that field trip for us.  He could not do a minute more.  I explained to his teacher’s aide as I could not find the teacher.  Both the aide and his teacher (who called us later) were very understanding.  He had to leave.

The tears and the self-soothe mechanisms (equations – “12-0=12”) continued for the next 30-40 minutes.  Back at the office, he calmed down.  He was back to himself.

Comparatively speaking, it wasn’t that bad.  I was just so sad that it had to happen at all, much less in front of peers he barely knew.  Most were so busy they did not even notice.  Some, however, walked outside, where he was sitting on a bench, weeping, before we left.  Most appeared concerned.  Some looked curious.  I didn’t see any snickers or laughter.

His meltdowns are different now.  They are still intense, but they are shorter, with obvious triggers and endings in sight.  He recognizes he is melting – he expresses that he knows and he does not want to talk about it.

Much of it seems tied together with the challenges he faces.  He is learning so much, it seems to overflow.  When he surpasses equilibrium, there are tears.  Once the overflow is expressed in tears and released, all is well again.

He’s been in plenty of noisy environments.  He’s been in crowds bigger than this with more success.  It seems it was a combo of noise, the crowd and the concentration required to answer questions on a worksheet that overworked his circuit board.

Pointing to the eyes of the robot…

If he was able to do just things that interested him, the toothbrush and teeth, a magnifying wheel over skeletons of animals, a kiddie car with lights that turned on and off, examining the huge “Wall-E” robot replica, he would have been fine.  I think the worksheet in that environment was simply too much.

I feel like I should have known.  I also wonder whether hearing the sounds of a crowd would have helped prepare him.  I do know that certain sounds can be unbearable for him but I’m not sure what those sounds will be in unfamiliar environments.

He was otherwise prepared for the field trip.  He knew where he was going and when.  He knew he’d be studying bones.  He did not know the duration or how loud, hot and crowded it would be or that he would have to answer questions.

When I prepare him for a new environment, I should consider more than just a social story and pictures.  I must consider the auditory portion, the feel, the temperature, and prepare him to integrate that in with pictures.  I must prepare him that I cannot fully prepare him…

Once we got home the night of the field trip, he disappeared into a toy closet.  Then, he disappeared into a bathroom.  When he came back to me, he’d found an old electric light up toothbrush and started brushing the teeth of his “shark car”.

Ahh, I thought – he did enjoy part of the field trip.

Now, where can I find a cheap giant toothbrush and teeth?  Anyone?


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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6 Responses to The Field Trip.

  1. Karla (Mom2MissK) says:

    I’m so sorry you had to go through such a tumultuous end to the field trip. We’ve been there, done that – and it sucks. And every time… Every. Single. Time. – I doubt myself and try to figure how I should have known, prepared, prevented….

    The truth is, I don’t think we can. We need to keep teaching our kids and helping them to help themselves. You’re doing an awesome job with T – like you said, he’s able to recognize the meltdowns and its just a matter of baby steps to teach him how to protect himself. Hang in there, and ((hugs))

  2. Lisa says:

    I am sorry that it became too much. We struggle with the same thing here. The good thing is that he made it as far as he did. He’ll be able to build on this the next time.

    I agree with Karla. We have to keep going and helping our kids through these life experiences. With each one they take some new knowledge with them and learn better ways to cope and communicate the next time. Good job, momma. Xoxo

  3. savvyadvocatemom says:

    The thing that jumped out at me was his pronoun use. He corrected himself and used “me” I am sorry he had a rough time, but even so, he is making so much progress. I also can’t say if the field trips get any easier, since they keep on making them more elaborate as they go along. Random still has anxiety about field trips. It was great that you were able to be there. You and Toots did great.

  4. Teresa says:

    It would be nice if we parents could always know a minute before something becomes too much. (Actually, we probably do but don’t realize the many times we escape a meltdown by our proactive actions.) For my son sometimes it is the crowd and sometimes it is the noise. Have you thought about using headphones that either dampen sounds or produce white noise?

    For our son continued repetition of going to this type of events eventually made them more tolerable. Continued strength to you!

  5. eof737 says:

    It’s good to read about Tootles and the effort he is making… I haven’t forgotten you; overwhelmed with classes and conferences I’m attending and then health matters… Thinking of you. 😉

  6. Allie says:

    Ya know, I never think about preparing for the smells and noises and all that sensory stuff that usually is the catalyst. I have GOT to start remembering to do that.

    Look at sweet Tootle’s in his doctor’s coat with the x-rays! Smarty pants!

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