I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling like my brain is always being pushed to perform and respond in ways that match my situation as a special needs parent. In my previous life, before becoming a mother, I was never someone with planning skills. Now I find myself mentally preparing for what may happen 10 steps ahead of any current moment. There isn’t much mental down time now, and thoughts are often strategic in nature, infused slightly with a bit of panic.
I usually think and plan through worst-case scenarios when we’re out in public. And if I’m being honest, this is why I tend to avoid public situations with my son. They’re very stressful the majority of the time.
This is obviously really lame, not just for me, but also for my little guy. I’ve set my expectations for his behavior so low, and consequently have really narrowed his world and made it hard for him to gain the experience to improve his behaviors.
With this in mind, I set out last weekend to take him to a birthday party. Of all things to do, this was the most dreaded of the bunch. Talk about perfect storm for a kid with sensory and behavioral issues! Since it was at a playground with room to run and things to climb, I felt like it just might be doable. I watched him run into the shelter house amidst all the kids and adults, the gifts, and especially the food, and my heart sank. How many people would he kick or hit? Would he start opening gifts? Would he stick his hand in the cake? And guess what he did? He stopped and looked around, smiled, and said hi to everyone. Yep.
I continued to watch him as he ran and played on the playground, waiting for the inevitable slap or kick to another child who came across his path. More smiles and hi’s ensued. I felt myself tear up and realized that he has had it in him all this time and just needed more opportunities to let it shine. Here was my boy at a birthday party, being better behaved than some of the typical kids. Unbelievable.
As you might expect, the newly bolstered confidence this gave me led to a week of adventures in public that might otherwise never have happened. Shopping trips, restaurants, a trip to the pool, and maybe this weekend a visit to the barbershop. Has everything gone as smoothly as the birthday party? Absolutely not. But what counts is that we got a taste of what success looks and feels like, and that was all we needed to decide that all the effort and anxiety are totally worth it just for another taste of that feeling.