Going out with our autistic son can be difficult. We are never sure whether he will cope or whether he will get into ‘flight mode’ and want to get out of a situation very quickly. A lot depends on our son’s mood. A lot also depends on the sensory environment, in particular how busy and noisy a place is but sometimes it is hard to avoid the busyness of places even if we have prepared well. Then there are the days when my son struggles to move his body or even refuse to move at all in which case a supply of food and drink can be a great motivator in getting him moving. Consequently we have learnt to be vigilant and watch out for signs that he is on the edge of not coping and if he is we try and take action to prevent a full-blown meltdown, though we are not always successful. You would think that it is not worth going out anywhere and sometimes I feel like this and sometimes we don’t go out, particularly if our son is having an obviously bad time. But generally we do try and escape the confines of our home, particularly if our son shows interest.
Last weekend was one such occasion when we decided to go to IKEA to get a rug. My son adores IKEA; his favourite place is the coffee shop where he loves the trolleys and the chance to use the machines to refill his cup of fizzy drink. My younger daughter loves IKEA because of the colourful designs for bedrooms; her wish is to have a proper bedroom not the box room she currently has and she flits wistfully between the mock bedrooms on display. And me? I love IKEA because my children love IKEA.
Anyway, our trip around the store was manageable till we got to the coffee shop. Usually food is a great source of interest for my son but this time we had issues over ‘choice’. This is something both my younger children have difficulty with but for my son in particular this leads to a great amount of stress. I try and alleviate this stress by either telling him (and his sister) what they will have or by restricting choice to a couple of items. However, this is getting harder as they are becoming more aware of the array of products in shops which increasingly overwhelms them. Last Saturday was no exception. My son could not cope with deciding whether to have a chocolate cake or a chocolate muffin (there was a difference; one was bigger than the other, whilst the other had more chocolate). Even when I tried to make the decision for him he ended up refusing to drink or eat anything! When he gets rigid and obstinate like this, interacting with him gets difficult if not impossible. We could also see the anger building up in him so we stopped communicating with him and gave him space to calm down. Fortunately he did on this occasion, and with some guidance from us, he eventually decided he would have a drink and something to eat. But it wasn’t the cake or the muffin that he chose in the end but a bar of chocolate!
During all of this difficultly, unbeknown to us, a couple had been listening to this convoluted discussion and whilst my son was tidying up in the cutlery area, they turned round and offered us their cakes. Having already eaten sweet things, we kindly refused their offer but it was lovely to experience some niceness from other people for a change rather than the rude stares we usually get when my son starts to get stressed.