The Battle of the Winter Festival

You don’t get to choose when it comes to Autism. A meltdown can happen at any time…be it in the privacy of our home or in the middle of a hallway at an elementary school crowded with people attending the annual winter festival.

We can do everything within our power to prepare for each different situation, but variables beyond our control always seem to find a way to slide into our path, and cause us to stumble.  

As a parent of a child with Autism when I hear events such as “Winter Festival” or “Family game night” at the school I immediately feel a bit sick to my stomach. I don’t picture fun and games.  Or a chance for her to run around with her friends, and get some energy out. 

A few years ago this might have been the case, but now…I start to assess the situation, and all the issues that might cause the night to end in a melt down.  I see bright lights, screaming kids, games she won’t be able to win (resulting in a melt down), door prizes that will go to other kids (resulting in a melt down). 

With Autism it is best to prevent issues from happening, because once things go wrong, it is very hard (at times impossible) to make the right again.  Before we have even stepped foot into the school I have a mental list of everything that will set her off, and how I am going to handle it. 

At this point in our journey I know…there is a land mine hidden somewhere, and it’s up to me to react quickly.  

The first ten to fifteen minutes are usually the best.  The excitement of getting to attend is enough to distract her from all the things that would normally bother her.   I steer her to a hallway on the left because there is a screaming baby in the

hallway to the right (crises averted), she loses a game, but I slip her piece of candy from my pocket that she would have gotten had she won (another crises averted). 

One of the very few friends she has brought their sibling, and only wants to spend time with them.. so I mention at some point we will plan a play date (landmine avoided).   

As we step out of one of the classrooms her walking slows, her expression changes..the smile suddenly gone. Hands that had been resting at her sides start flapping as if the motion might lift her from the ground and away from the chaos.

Nothing has happened, but in this moment everything has changed. It’s too much, and I know it even before she does.

I reach out…my hand taps her shoulder gently, and her wide blue eyes flicker upwards towards me.  Her pupils are dilated, her stare is distant…it goes right through me, “We can take a break” I whisper as I pull her off to the side of the hallway only a split second before she collapses to the ground and begins to sob.

Sitting against the wall in the middle of the overly crowded school I become her safe space. Everything I do in this moment will determine whether we stay and finish the evening, or if I carry her out over my shoulder kicking and screaming. 

I take a breath, make myself calm. 

My arms hold her tight, and my voice attempts to distract her from the screaming kids who run from one room to the next…the world around us seeming to move faster as ours has come to a complete halt.

I don’t care how odd it may look. I am used to. I still see the stares, the shaking heads, looks of pity, and whispers from those who don’t know her or what is causing such public scene to take place. 

This moment only a few years ago would have had me carrying her out of the school, and away to where no one could see our reality. I would vow to not attend any more of these functions in the near future, and be angry at myself for failing once again to make the evening a “successful” one. 

What has changed? 

The melt-downs still occur, but the way I view them is different.  I have redefined what is a successful evening for us.  Did we go?  Did we try?  Were we able to get back up and carry on with the evening if an issue occurred? 

I used to hide my battle scars away from the world, and now I wear them with pride.  

 A few semi-snug squeezes, and only halfway through my solo performance of “let it go” she is still crying, but she smiles. She has come back to me…my wonderfully silly little 6 year old that just wanted to enjoy a night of games and fun. 

This night we will rise, and we will attempt once again to complete the evening.  We stand together.  We push forward. 

These moments used to ruin us. These moments used to keep us in hiding.

We have grown, we have sharpened our coping skills…even in a stress filled night such as this one.

This moment was only allowed to be just that. It was had, it was conquered, and it was over.  We win the battle this time.

We win.

Written by, Ashley E

My name is Ashley.  I am a wife, and mother to two uniquely wonderful children.  My oldest child is six, her name is Lily, and she was diagnosed with mild/moderate Autism a few years ago.  My son, Jackson, is two and half, and we adopted him when he was six months old.  I work full time, and am in the middle of attempting to earn a Bachelor’s degree Psychology, hopefully followed by a Masters in Counseling.   I just recently started a page titled “our kind of normal” where I attempt to shed light on raising a child with special needs.  

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Finding Cooper's Voice is a safe, humorous, caring and honest place where you can celebrate the unique challenges of parenting a special needs child. Because you're never alone in the struggles you face. And once you find your people, your allies, your village....all the challenges and struggles will seem just a little bit easier. Welcome to my page!

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