It’s the schools’ February long weekend and after two normal weekend days of rain it’s raining again! My boys have been stir crazy and urgently needed to burn off some energy. With my mum for moral support I headed off to one of our local soft play centres. My boys had never visited this one before so I thought it would make a nice change. It’s inside a large shop near the back, so a long way from an escape out the front door for J. It’s a large play frame inside a gated area, again helping to keep J contained. Or so I thought!
The area is surrounded by seating for parents/the cafe and was very busy. This meant we had to sit at the side of the play area and were not in direct view of the exit gate. Cue an hour spent on edge, constantly peering at the gate to check J wasn’t escaping off out into the shop and running rampage. It might have been slightly easier if the gate was closed and serving its purpose. The girl at the desk was more guilty of leaving it open than the constant stream of children running in and out. The result of this was J constantly running out of the gate to play on the machines outside and to look for us. I kept returning him to the play area, where he returned happily several times. Eventually though this repeated action got too much for him and he had what can only be described as a meltdown. We tried to calm him with juice, sweets & games on my phone but he was too frenzied and I eventually had to hug him into me to restrain him and stop him kicking and biting. Of course, this drew glances and stares from some of the surrounding adults, while others politely averted their eyes.
Eventually when he was slightly calmer (though not calm) I put on his jacket and shoes, called on B and we left, with me carrying my big, kicking five year old in my arms. I didn’t meet anyone’s eyes. I was already too exhausted to second guess their stares. Were they understanding/sympathetic or annoyed and judgmental? By this point I no longer cared.
My lesson for today is that not everyone recognises, understands or accepts autism. People don’t recognise a child suffering from an uncontrollable meltdown because they have difficulty coping with their surroundings or circumstances which are out with their control. Some people can’t tell the difference between this and a child having a tantrum or acting out. To me this reinforces the need for awareness and acceptance. Or just the need for someone to do their job, follow some basic rules and shut the gate😡!
Next time you visit a place like this, bear in mind the effect a lack of awareness can have, be aware, shut the gate behind you. If you see a child ‘acting out’ take time to assess the situation. Maybe they aren’t coping, maybe something has happened to send them into their spiral. Try not to stare in disgust, perhaps even offer a reassuring nod or smile of understanding to their frazzled parent/carer or merely turn away if you are not able to do this. A simple act of understanding or kindness can go a long way.
The positive side of this is that it has shown me that I can ignore the stares at times, shrug them off and focus on what’s more important in the situation – my son and his safety/peace of mind.
The difference between a tantrum and a meltdown: