I've spent three years living life from the sidelines and finally, I feel like I'm being brought back in the game. Before thinking the sideline is a bad place, I'll tell you that it was probably the most important place to be, though admittedly unpleasant at times. In April, a shift began. Slowly but surely, Isaac began to handle more diverse situations, and slowly but surely, that meant I could step into the game, cautious for sure, but eager. I've stayed home from many events and family outings with Isaac. This allowed Isabella to stay in the game and have fun with Walter, and sure, there have been times when Walter has given up his spot and has been benched with Isaac. But it's usually me, because the reality is, I know Isaac the best (Walter would agree, so don't think I'm slighting him).
As we drove back from our vacation a few weeks ago, Walter said that for the first time since having Isaac, he felt like we all went somewhere and we all enjoyed it. Getting to this point, has been like climbing a mountain that we thought would never end. I could list all of the things we've given up participating in over the past three years, or all of the times we've tried and Isaac and I have sat in the car instead, but that wouldn't be fun. I will say that one of the many things I've learned from Isaac (and Isabella too, in her less intense way) is to live in the moment. For a long time I wanted to escape from the moment, and that made me feel helpless. Instead of escaping, I began to realize that my job on the sidelines was to comfort when all I wanted was for someone to comfort me, to help him feel safe and secure so that one day, we'd get our chance and he would be ready to be a team player, and most importantly, even in his smallness, to make him feel accepted, because there will be many games in this life where he won't be accepted.
For as long as I can remember, I've gone to The Ohio State Fair. I'm sure you already know, whether it's a state or county fair, it's a shock to the sensory system, so we knew it could be challenging with Isaac because it has been in the past. We arrived at 1:30 p.m. and didn't leave until 9:00 p.m. Isaac and Isabella had a blast, and we drove home completely exhausted, but so happy knowing that we all had fun. We were so excited about our all-inclusive family fun day, that we went to the zoo the next day, and then we went to the zoo again the day after that. All-inclusive fun really is as good as they say--we couldn't get enough of it.
As I'm writing this, I am thinking about how we've reached this more positive place with Isaac and I feel like I should share some things we've learned and found helpful over the past few years.
A few tips for your sensory-sensitive child that I've found helpful:
-Give a warning about what is to take place. Before going to a social gathering, we tell Isaac that we are going to see a lot of people (same with people coming over to our house) and there will be lots of kids at said place, and he might accidentally get bumped into (or whatever sets off your child), but it's okay.
-Slow and steady wins the race. You can't rush a child with sensory issues. If do, you're screwed--simple as that. Ease into each and every situation and pull back as necessary. I have learned with Isaac, that I need to get to every appointment, story-time, whatever, early. He needs about ten minutes to be in that environment before the hustle and bustle begins. Yes, this means we sit in waiting rooms for a long time. Yes, it is a pain. But I quickly learned that if we arrived at a therapy appointment and they were ready to take him back right away, he would freak out and the appointment wouldn't be productive. Now we get there early, and he acclimates to situations much better.
It's tempting as a parent to want your child to participate in what you think is fun. Sure, you want them to think playing with their friends is fun, but if you stand there and say, "go play with your friends, doesn't that look fun?" And your child is thinking, "no way, they're loud, and not only are they loud, they might touch me" well, fight or flight takes over and all bets are off. I have learned from Isaac, that if I just let him observe, even if he doesn't participate that time, the next time around, he is more likely to engage.
-Accept that it doesn't take much for a big thrill. Isaac does not like slides. It doesn't matter what we do, he will not go down a slide. He won't even sit at the top of a slide. Guess what? It doesn't matter! Who cares if the kids goes down a slide or not? One day, when he's ready, there is no doubt in my mind that he will happily climb to the top and slide down. For now, he sits at the bottom and says, "weee!" and gets super excited about it. Again, what we think is fun, may scare them to death, so why push it?
-If it is really loud, even if you don't necessarily notice the noise, but you see your child getting agitated, quickly and quietly move to a different room, or go off in a different direction away from the noise. I feel like I am constantly observing Isaac, but I know it's better to act quickly instead of let things get out of hand. Even though we try to push his limits, he does have boundaries and it is our job to be respectful of those boundaries. I think it helps that I am very sensitive to noise and large groups so I have some inkling of how he feels.
-Have an object at hand that makes them feel safe. For Isaac, this is his pacifier and whatever toy he left the house with that he has deemed the most important toy of the day. Keep track of those items as if your life depends on it.
-Know when it's time to leave. Just don't push your luck. As much of a bummer as it is, it's much better to leave with a semi-happy child than it is to leave with a screaming one. I've been in both situations, and trust me, when you see the red flags, make for the exit. If you do leave with a screaming child, don't get mad at them, know that you pushed the limits, reassure them that everything will be okay, and chalk it up as a learning experience. Think back and consider what the triggers may have been that set off your child, and you'll be more prepared for the next social gathering.
What to do about siblings:
As I recall, one of my mom's favorite phrases has always been, "life isn't fair". Life isn't fair. Learn it. Accept it. Get over it. BAM! She wasn't that harsh, that's just how I feel as an adult, because God knows, I know, life isn't fair.
We try to stress to Isabella that life isn't fair because it truly is true, after all, and more importantly, our family is a team, and being part of the team means that you have to make sacrifices. If she is unhappy about having to do something because of/or for Isaac, we remind her that we are team, and we also remind her that Isaac has to wait for her while she has her ballet lessons, and he waits for her during swim lessons, and he waits while we take her out to ice-cream, etc. Before a play-date, I always remind Isabella that if Isaac is really unhappy, we will leave. She generally complies, and I try to find a balance between making the two of them happy. Sometimes that means we really do need to leave ASAP, and sometimes it means that Isaac and I can excuse ourselves to a different room for some quiet, or I can distract him just long enough that Isabella feels she had sufficient time to play with her friends. Honestly, sometimes grandma (otherwise known as, my mom) has to come to the rescue, so that we can all spend time with our friends without Isaac. We had a very unfortunate birthday party experience last month. It was a situation where Isaac decided he wanted nothing to do with it, and nothing was going to make him happy, so my mom met up with me and took him to her house. Thankfully, this allowed Isabella to continue playing with her friends, and Walter and I were able to spend time with our friends whereas, the plan was that I would take Isaac home (again, removed to the sidelines) and pick them up later.
Again, these are things that I've found helpful in dealing with Isaac's sensory issues. You may not agree with how I approach these situations. I don't really care. What I do care about, is making my children feel like people, building trust, and accepting them for who they are.
Our day at The Fair. Isabella, held a snake, rode on rides, learned how to use a bow and arrow, milked a cow, watched the most amazing Sea Lion show I've ever seen, and ate a funnel cake (well, not the whole thing).
Isaac did not like the sheep or the cows.
Isaac performed his own show before the start of the what was a very boring show on Falconry.
If you hadn't noticed, I'm trying to hand off the camera so that I'm actually in some pictures and my kids know they had a mom. One of the best parts of the fair for me, was getting to spend most of the time holding Isabella's hand. I am usually the one holding Isaac, and watching (from the sidelines) Isabella and Walter have fun, so it was such a gift to walk around hand in hand with my girl.
My grandpa would have been proud. I had a nearly perfect shot.
Until next time.