Your palms are sweaty. You grip your steering wheel nervously as you run through every possible worst case scenario one more time. Will he try to run? Will she start yelling or screaming? Will he have a total meltdown? People are staring at you. Some wear expressions of pity. Others frown in judgement. You hear someone mumble “if that was my kid…” They can’t believe your child is acting like that in public.
But, all of this is in your head. You haven’t even left the house yet.
And as these thoughts continue, you’re pretty sure you’re not going to.
This is the prison of fear we can face as parents of children with special needs. A quick google search and you’ll find articles like this one by Miriam Gwynne. Parents feel like they just can’t leave the house. Staying home is often the safest and easiest thing to do. Your kid is comfortable there. Your house is childproofed and locked down. You have a routine. Inside your house everyone understands the frequent outburst, the sudden mood swings, and the quirky behaviors. Outside the house there are too many dangers and too many unknowns.
Here’s the problem; living life inside the same four walls every day can wear you down. Chances are if you do leave without your child, you’re going to feel guilty or nervous about what will happen while you’re away. If you have a typical child (or children) in the house as well, the guilt can really eat you up too. How much are they missing out on because of their sibling’s social challenges? And consider this, keeping your child at home exclusively can also seriously limit their exposure to experiences they may enjoy and grow from.
I have a fear of my autistic son running out of the house and getting hurt. We were talking about this with his behavior consultant recently and she told us we need to work on taking him outside. The major fear we have is that he could get hit by a car. He has no sense of danger and he would run into the road without looking. I have saved him from doing this many times. She suggested that we walk him to the park in our neighborhood and along the way as we cross the street we explain to him how to watch for cars using the first/then technique. “First we look. Do you see any cars? No. Okay, then we cross the street.” The repetition will help him get the routine. She said that if we don’t take him, there’s no chance of him knowing what to do if he ever got out on his own.
For some reason we had never thought about it like that.
Yes, it can be difficult and even scary to leave the house with him. But, if we don’t introduce him to the world properly. Any unexpected encounter could have far more serious consequences.
With this in mind, here are a few ideas to get you out of the house and into some new experiences with your kid.
A trip to the grocery store. This is a great way to start off simple. You know you need to go to the grocery store regularly anyway. Depending on the level of your child’s development, you can even involve them in making the grocery list. Throw in an item or two just for them. It’s important to keep the list simple and the trip short, especially at first. At the grocery store you can explain what you’re getting and have your kid repeat after you as you name each of the items on your list. Even if your child is not verbal explaining what you’re doing as you do it can help them feel comfortable. Another benefit to this type of trip is that it is easy to leave if it is not going very well.
Of course going to the grocery store presents some challenges. You want to be sure to go when the store is not too busy. Even then the unfamiliar sites and sound can be overwhelming for some children. But you never know if you don’t try. I have done a few grocery store trips with my son. All but one of them went very well. The key is to be prepared. Nobody know your child’s triggers like you do.
Find a sensory friendly movie theatre. I stumbled onto this idea one night while I was looking up things to do in my area. I’ve always wanted to take my little guy to the movie theatre but I was afraid of the volume of the movie would be too much for him. I was also not sure if he could sit through a whole movie. I know I’m not allow in those concerns. AMC theatres has partnered with the Autism Society to provide sensory friendly films for the whole family to enjoy. They turn the lights up and the sound down. The kids are allowed to get up and walk around. And you won’t be shushed for talking. Check out the link and see if there’s a theatre in your area that participates.
Take advantage of Hunter’s Autism Specials offerings like this: 2nd Annual All Special Needs Day. If you’re in the Dallas area, you have to check this out. There’s just a couple days to register for this event. It’s a unique opportunity to get your kids out to the water park to have some fun in a safe judgement free environment. You don’t have to feel like a prisoner in your own home. You can get out. Better yet, getting out of the house can help your child grow and develop. It may be a little scary but it’s worth the risk.