Yesterday, like many of you, we drove to the country for our annual Christmas Tree Hunt. This would be an adventure far outside Kate's daily routine and we knew it could potentially cause some problems for her. If you don't have or work with a child with autism some of these things might seem silly or they might even sound like the overcompensation of an over-protective parent. If you are in the same boat as us, you had to think twice before embarking on your own christmas tree mission this year. First off, we packed food that Kate could/would eat. When large groups gather to cut their trees down for the year there is usually no shortage of sweet treats for the kids. Kate prefers fruit but Grace and I made her some GF/CF gingerbread men just in case. Next, we pack up the car with all the warm clothes we thought we needed (it was sunny and warm yesterday) and head out for the 90 minute drive. Both of our girls are pretty easy to take in the car (with the help of the iPad, that is). Once we arrive at the U-Cut we all pile out to meet the others and begin searching for our tree. I watched Kate very closely for signs of distress or confusion. She doesn't spend any time in the forest and I wondered whether the sights or smells would be hard for her to process. Luckily, she seemed to really be enjoying herself. I know she didn't know why we were there but she ran around the woods with her sister and had a great time. Kate will usually handle new and different situations very well. She gives it all she has for about an hour and then she lets you know that she is done. Kate is still only two and there are times when it is hard to distinguish a sensory overload moment from a typical two year old tantrum. This is how we do it: Kate very rarely has tantrums. These are the 'crying, lay on the floor and kick my feet to get what I want' behaviours that are exhibited by 'normal' toddlers. We look to see if Kate is in control of what she is doing. It is pretty easy to tell. If she can be bribed or distracted, it is a tantrum, usually. She has had a few and we can tell it is not a 'meltdown' (which is a word we use for sensory overload moments because it is more descriptive of what happens) because we can tell when she can control how she is reacting to a situation. Does that make sense? So, when Kate is overwhelmed and can no longer process the information that is being thrown at her, like at a holiday party, or a visit to Costco she melts down and shuts off. She'll cry and try to find a small space to squeeze into or she'll ask for a hug. She started to melt down in the woods yesterday but we about ready to leave anyway and we packed up the car and said our goodbyes. Likely, she had given us multiple warning signs that she was ready to leave but we are still learning how to read them. This Christmas we are doing some research on how to make the holidays sensory sensitive. Something as simple as receiving presents can be confusing for a child with autism. The loud music, the smells, the people, the change in routine are all things that will tire Kate out more quickly than the NT toddlers. We want her to experience all the fun of the holidays and we don't want anyone to change their plans to suit us. We just want to be prepared so that our girls have the most fun this year. I have been reading about Sensitive Santas that, for kids who might find the long lines, crowds, lights and music troublesome, offer an alternative that allows a child to see Santa without all the commotion. Sounds great for every kid, I think. Maybe I will organize that myself next year! Anyway, gotta go, but before I do I wanted to show you this video made by an awesome dad. The numbers are 1 in 88 now and this video was made just a few years ago.
Happy Mail to:
27 Wellington Row
Saint John, NB
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Grace and Kate's mom. (Shanell)