Our brains organize the sights, smells, sounds, tastes, and feel of the world around us so that we can respond appropriately, but this sensory input is all a bit jumbled in my son’s mind.
A gentle caress or spray of water is like sandpaper across his skin. The sound of a loudspeaker or flushing toilet will bring tears to his eyes.
Crowded rooms have always been problematic, and they can be so overwhelming that his body flies into overdrive. He’ll run, spin, jump, smash into walls, and even yell at the top of his lungs to try and feed the fight-or-flight response his body is having to a particular environment.
Obviously, this makes visiting places like the airport difficult. Flights themselves are OK, because the vibrations help to relax him, but juggling luggage, security checks, and the endless lines can be a nightmare.
We prepare for weeks ahead of a trip by talking about the airport and creating a checklist of the steps we’ll take to get on the plane. Special bags with a deep pressure vest, headphones, and other comforting toys are also packed to help with his anxiety.
All of this planning, though, doesn’t guarantee an uneventful journey.
We recently returned to New York after visiting family in Texas. It was a long day, and by the time we made it to baggage claim, the kiddo was so tired and overwhelmed that he had a complete meltdown.
There I was, in the middle of the dirty floor at LaGuardia, holding a flailing and screaming 5-year-old, watching for our bags, and attempting to find our driver.
I was trying so hard to hold it together, but the tears were coming quick. People were pointing at us, and one woman even said the predictable, “MY child would never act like that,” as she walked by with a friend.
All I wanted to do was get away.
Then, from out of nowhere, the lovely woman who’d sat next to me on the flight appeared. She knelt down beside us, and in a calm, quiet voice asked my son what his favorite color of jelly bean was. He looked completely shocked, but answered.
She sat down and asked if he could pull out his pretend binoculars to help look for our luggage, which he did.
Before long, the bags and the driver appeared. She smiled, I thanked her profusely, and we parted ways.
There will always be disapproving looks and people who don’t understand, but there are also people like Dee Dee from New Jersey, who helped me see that, even in one of my darker parenting moments, I wasn’t alone.
Related post: Dear Toddler, Screw Your Tantrums