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.
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.
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.
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?