Matthew has a mild form of Sensory Processing Disorder. It causes him issues with sensitivity to noise, new environments, crowds, busy places, and places he is not sure he feels comfortable in. This can make planning a day out with him, that little bit more challenging. I tend to avoid going to places we haven’t been to before, with just me as the only adult, because it can be harder to manage things for him whilst making it enjoyable for us, and we tend to carefully plan trips to places we want to go to, to make sure we enjoy them, but that he is kept as happy and calm as possible. It has taken a lot of trial, error, tears, meltdowns (from him and me) and hard work, to get to a place where I don’t feel tense about a day out or an outing. It is getting easier and he generally likes going out on a trip with his family but we are pretty strict about things to make the day smooth and pleasant for all of us.
We talk about what we are going to do, and we make a list of the things we will do and see when we get there and we stick to that. If we diverge from that, he gets quite stressed and upset, and it’s harder to manage him. If something isn’t going to plan (for example an exibit we wanted to see is not open or too busy) we make sure we have a back up plan that we can quickly put into action. We also talk to him very clearly and make sure he knows what is happening and what we are doing.
We don’t go to really crowded or noisy places (concerts or firework displays) he hates them, he gets incredibly stressed out and it’s not fun for him. One day he may cope with these, but for now, we skip them.
We always try and make sure we have his ear defenders with us, because he can then at least drown out some of the noise if we are in a noisy place that he isn’t coping with. They are a brilliant tool that helps him cope.
We take lots of snacks, and cold drinks. That sounds a bit “doh” and obvious as a parent of a child but I always have a snack in my bag, even though he is older. When he gets hungry he struggles to tell me that is what he is feeling and he can get pretty tetchy when his blood sugar drops and sometimes a small snack solves things.
I always have an exit plan in my head. If he really isn’t coping or I can see a meltdown coming, because where we are is too much for him, and his sensory issues, I will try and get us away from where we are. LSH and I now know the drill and we work well in team, to make sure his sister gets to enjoy things but one of us takes her brother out to help him calm down and cope if needed. It’s hard but it makes it work for all of us.
If you see me talking to him, you may either think that I am being somewhat harsh with him (when he goes into pre meltdown mode I have to be really firm and use clear words to try and get him to hear me, process and calm himself before he gets really upset) or I might just be sat on the floor with him in my lap sobbing and all I am doing is rubbing his back. Neither of these situations is bad or weird, it’s just our way of helping him to calm down and deal with what has upset him.
We don’t go on outings with lots of other people in a group. It’s too hard to get everyone to try and work around our small son and his needs and stressful for us, and also not fair on other people who don’t get what we are dealing with, and not fair that our day has to run a certain way, when other people want to do things differently. One day, we will probably be able to, but for now, we manage our outings as a family with my dad or one or two other family members who understand and also are great with Matthew, rather than big groups. When he goes on school trips he goes with someone who understands his needs and helps him, or I go along.
He is growing up, and changing and learning to cope with the things in his brain that make life a bit more challenging and I am terribly proud of him, because he really does love going out to places and we love going places with him, and that little bit of extra work we put in makes it worth it when I get photos like this of him enjoying himself.
On the mini train at the Royal Bath & West Show – he loved it, and went with his sister, whilst I watched and had a little proud cry at how far he has come…