Fourth of July, Big Gatherings, and Autism
Another holiday filled with family, noise, and chaos looms ahead. While it can be fun, for Rachel and her autism it can also be problematic.
We often don’t get invited to big affairs because sometimes people don’t know how to deal with Rachel.
I get that, trust me, I do. I shy away from difficulty myself.
The other day though we were invited to a family party. Yay! Even though it would be difficult to go, I knew I had to put forth the effort to let Rachel socialize, but also so that eldest and myself could get out.
When we arrived the party was in full swing. Small children banged toys and frolicked in all rooms of the house. Rachel clung to my legs, so we shuffled inside the door like a three-legged crab.
After glancing around, Rachel signed potty and said, “Pa?”
The bathroom is her first escape mechanism—it’s how she becomes comfortable with a new place—so we crab-trudged to the bathroom. After flushing the toilet a few times and washing her hands repeatedly, I told her we were finished. She stared at the door with big eyes.
I looked at the situation from her perspective. I knew many of the people there. I knew the other children would not harm me. I can deal with loud noises, and I knew the escape routes. All of this was unknown to Rachel. Rachel’s autistic characteristics seem to stem from very high anxiety, so it made sense that she would hoot, hide, and flap more in a new setting with so many variables.
I grabbed her hand and squeezed. “Ready?”
She clung onto my hand as though she dangled over a cliff and headed straight for the backyard.
Although a hot Texas backyard in July isn’t my idea of wonderful, I kept my eyes on the fact that we were at a party, she wasn’t having a meltdown, and she was still dressed.
We spent a lot of time outside playing with bubbles and chatting with the people as they came and went. It was nice until … the bubble juice spilled on Rachel’s shirt and shorts.
She swiped at the soggy mess, but that made it foam. She solved that problem right away though… by taking off her clothes.
Eyebrows raised all around us. The others stared at Rachel, their ability to speak gone. In the past this would have horrified me.
Instead, I just smiled at the people closest to me. “It’s not a party until someone loses their shorts, yes?”
I laughed, they laughed. No one said anything else. Possibly they were afraid to talk to the crazy lady with the half-naked daughter, but I didn’t dwell on it. We weren’t destroying any property, Rachel still had her undershirt and underwear on, so we weren’t exposed, and if someone had a problem with her stripping off her clothes, it was their issue, not mine.
Of course, we left soon after that, and I resolved to bring spare clothes with me in the future, but we survived unscathed. Rachel had a good time, and I think we might even be invited back again.
In light of this, here are some party survival tips I have learned over the years:
• Make sure the hostess knows about your child’s condition. If she has a problem or concerns, it is better to discuss it up front. I don’t expect the hostess to jump through hoops for me, but I also let her know that we may sit by ourselves, we might not join in chaotic activities, and that we will bring our own snacks. That way she doesn’t feel stressed or obligated to make us fit into everyone else.
• Always bring a change of clothes. 🙂
• Watch your child for cues. If he is feeling overwhelmed, find a quiet spot.
• Get it set in your mind that part of your purpose is to help your child get used to the environment, not to party yourself. If you want to focus on enjoying those around you, bring a babysitter with you that knows your child. It is almost impossible to do both and not have a meltdown. If you are with a spouse, plan ahead to take turns with your child. Don’t assign this daunting task to older siblings though unless you have so many that they can take short turns with you.
• Don’t be stressed. Your stress will rub off onto your child.
• Bring your child’s favorite snacks, especially if they are on a special diet. You can also bring an activity the child enjoys in a small tote (a coloring book, etc.).
• Plan ahead to relocate to a quieter place or leave if your child becomes over-stressed, especially if fireworks are involved.
• Have a sense of humor. It really does help.
What tips or tricks do you have that work well for large gatherings?