Yesterday was Canadian Thanksgiving. (If you’ve never heard of it, you must be American. Long story short: Canadians have Thanksgiving in October). We headed off to see my sister and brother-in-law, and the car ride there was like a scene straight from hell.
Two screaming children on a 60-minute drive.
I mean, it was pretty bad.
For a few reasons, the kids hadn’t been able to take their regularly scheduled naps. Thus, they were monsters. My son, Kristian, is just getting over a throat infection, and my daughter, Olivia, has just decided she really hates car rides.
So it sucked.
My stepson was trying his best to pacify his baby sister, Olivia, but she just wanted to scream.
I thought once we arrived, things would be okay. The kids wanted out of the car. The adults wanted out of the car. The teenager wanted out of the car.
We finally got out of the car.
Things were better, at first. My sister-in-law gave me some rum, Olivia fell asleep in her car seat, and Kristian wandered upstairs with his brother. I felt kind of like an adult.
But then people started to arrive. My son grew bored of playing upstairs, so he came downstairs, and then became anxious about all of the people.
He started to cry, fall to the floor, whine, and shriek.
You know, fun kid stuff.
We hadn’t yet sat down for dinner, so to say there was still plenty of life left in the party for all the other guests is an understatement.
There were a dozen or so people there, and their kids were in their tweens and teens. So basically, my son was the only kid throwing a fit.
I started to feel awkward.
All the adults were enjoying their drinks, mingling, talking about travel and work and what universities their kids might attend. And I was chasing around a toddler, trying my best to get him to be quiet and keep him entertained and satisfied.
In some ways, this is no different than any other toddler-type scenario. I’m sure many moms of neurotypical children have dealt with this behavior on some level, on more than one occasion.
But these are the autism-specific reasons we ended up leaving the party:
1. TV wasn’t helping anymore.
One of the very few ways to get Kristian to relax and sit still for more than five seconds is to let him watch TV. We did that for a while, and it worked for 45 minutes or so. But afterward, he refused to be pacified. When the TV stops working, it’s time to go. I used to believe I’d be the type of mom to never let my kids have screen time. I also used to think raising children would be a walk in the park. Let’s all have a nice laugh at that.
2. Kristian is nonverbal.
This means it is nearly impossible to figure out what he wants from any sort of communication/interaction with him. What this means for family events is that unless you have spent a lot of time with him (this is literally only me, my husband, my mom, and my brother), then you have no idea what he wants or why. He will flap his arms while becoming increasingly agitated, and you have to guess what he might need. When he is around a lot of people who do not understand his needs (as most people wouldn’t — who can guess what a mini person flapping their arms needs out of all of the things in the world?!), it makes for a very uncomfortable and frustrating situation. It means that my husband and I are his caretakers, even when we are surrounded by a room full of people who love him and would like to give us a break.
3. He finds it hard to cope with change.
He hadn’t had his nap, and unlike his sister who can sleep in a crowded living room with no problem, he will absolutely not sleep anywhere but his crib. He might — sometimes — sleep in his car seat on long drives. But even when he desperately needs to sleep, he will throw a fit instead of try to lie down in a nice guest bedroom. Having no crib to nap in, and a missed window of opportunity, we were stuck with the angry Kristian.
4. He is hyperactive.
As mentioned, the only way to get him to stay stationary for a few minutes at a time is to let him watch TV. Otherwise, he will walk up and down the stairs 10 times in 5 minutes, and since he isn’t very skilled at going up and down without assistance, that means you better be able to climb 10 sets of stairs in 5 minutes too. So when it comes to sitting down with the family for dinner, the only way that’s going to happen is if he’s strapped in a high chair. If there’s no high chair, there’s no family dinner.
5. At almost 2 years old, he still needs a lot of baby-proofing around the house.
And most people without little kids do not have a baby-proofed home (which, um, duh, makes sense). Kristian doesn’t understand walking off of a deck may injure him. He doesn’t know what is hot, or breakable, or sharp, or unpleasant. He usually doesn’t even seem to feel the unpleasantness of it all: He’s taken off vent covers and climbed down inside, scraping up his legs in the process, and not made a sound. For this reason, he needs constant supervision.
And so, we left the Thanksgiving party early.
My in-laws were amazing — they packed us food to go so we could eat at home and didn’t give us a hard time about our early departure. I felt like I could breathe a little more freely when we left — even though our kids were still throwing fits (oh yeah, they cried on the way home too), but it was only disruptive to us, the parents, and not other guests.
Autism is a pain in the ass sometimes. Toddlers are pains in the ass — with or without a disorder. When you combine the two, it’s like a giant hemorrhoid. So my advice to anyone dealing with this type of scenario when traveling or visiting family: Do it at your house. If that isn’t possible, try to recreate your home as much as you are able to (Pack ‘n Play, toys from home, etc.), and stick to your regular schedule. If we had planned better, we would have brought a portable crib for Kristian to sleep in.