Thursday, January 03, 2008

Autism and Public Places, Conor Makes Progress

My son Conor, for first time visitors to this site, has Autism Disorder with profound developmental delays. One of the issues which has plagued Conor from his earliest years has been his inability to handle being in public places. He is beyond any doubt sensitive, overly sensitive, to environmental stimulation. At one time we could not visit a department store with Conor without him having a meltdown on the scene. We dealt with it by staying in the store and ignoring the tantrum behavior that often accompanied such visits. Conor would literally scream and kick on the floor of department stores. Other shoppers would look at us with the look that said "why are they abusing that child?" Neurodiversity bloggers will still make that accusation. But with time that behavior was eliminated and Conor, to both our benefit and his, began to be able to visit public places without engaging in tantrum behavior or having a meltdown.

In the past several months though Conor began to regress. Even in places where I took him on a regular basis it became difficult, and sometimes impossible, to visit for any time without a meltdown. I continued to take him to the most familiar places with the least environmental stimulation to try and restore his comfort level with public settings. After making some progress for awhile I pushed the envelope too far during the Christmas holidays, as I commented on previously, and Conor had one of the worst meltdowns I have ever seen.

Even more recently though Conor has again shown great progress. We ask him whether he wants to go into the grocery stores when we go there or give him the option of "stay in car with Daddy" while my wife gets the groceries. Usually Conor would say "stay in car". But he surprised us fairly recently by saying "Sobeys" the name of the grocery store we were going to visit. Last night again when going to the "Superstore" grocery store Conor expressed the wish to go in the store. Inside the store, I buy apples individually and I asked for his help in counting and placing apples in the plastic bag before I tied it up. Conor smiled and had fun in the store.

I also took Conor for a drive to a nearby community and back. Conor enjoys driving with Dad preferably with no radio or discs playing. At the end of the drive I took him to a local McDonald's expecting to have to again go through the drive through because it had been awhile since Conor would sit down in McDonald's without a tantrum. This time though I asked him and he agreed. We went inside and Conor was smiling and relaxed. It was fun.

If parents are struggling with visiting public places with their autistic child have faith that things can improve. You may have to try different approaches and you may want to consult any therapists who are working with your child but the situation can improve with time and effort.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Congratulations! I have a 4-year-old with autism and we've had our share of meltdowns, so I can only imagine how relieved you must feel to be gaining ground again. I am sure it was a wonderful feeling to go to McDonalds with a HAPPY son! :)

~Nicole in California