When Konner was three Jennifer and I decided to do what any “good” parent would do and let our son have a party at the land of children’s joy; the conglomerate know as Chuck E. Cheese. We had not yet had him diagnosed for Autism, but we had our suspicions and an appointment to have him tested. We headed into this beehive of over stimulation with all guns firing. We had his party on a Saturday night, which meant lots of people and noise. The toys and games provided enough sound and lights to send anyone into shock, let alone an autistic child. That’s not to mention the smells of the cardboard-like pizza and sweaty people. All of this combined for a sensory overload, a complete meltdown, and an early exit. At the time people didn’t really understand why we were rushing him out of his own party, and to be honest, at the time we didn’t really know either. In fact much of it is a blur as I reflect.
So, when his younger brother had his mind set on going to Chuck E. Cheese for his birthday this year you can understand why I didn’t have a very good feeling in my gut. I know that Konner has come a long way with his therapy in the past three years, but something like that can really set a child off faster than a cheap bottle rocket on the 4th of July.
However, we tried to prepare him this time for what he was about to take in. This is a little like preparing someone for war. You can try and train them, tell them what they are about to see and hear, but until you actually go through it you don’t really know or understand.
I explained to him the night before that there was going to be a lot of people there moving around. I told him there would be lots of noise, and lights. We talked about how it was going to be a little crazy. We even made plans for a grandparent to take him home if he was over stimulated and needed to leave. He said that it was okay and that he was ready to go.
When we got there today he seemed very quiet at first and sat in his chair while we figured out what was going on with the party. He did very well with everything and decided to go play the games. I followed him around everywhere and we played some games together. He really liked the driving games. He never really tried to leave my side. He seemed to be okay with everything that was going on, but was very quiet for the most part.
When it was time to go back to the table to eat he followed me back and sat quietly while all the other children ran around watching the stage show. He did get up when Chuck E. Cheese himself made an appearance and they hugged.
I was very proud of the way he acted all day and we didn’t have a single meltdown. In fact, I’m not sure we had any problems while we were there.
I do know that when we were finished and got in the car he was very over stimulated, but after two and a half hours of screaming children, sporadic lighting, and loud music I was over stimulated myself. He handled it very well.
The car ride home was touchy though. He didn’t like it when we decided to stop by Sweet Bay and get some coffee. His brother was getting on his nerves by this time too, but that’s normal. He kept saying that he wanted to throw our drinks away and when into echolalia mode repeating that the entire 30 mile drive home. However, he didn’t meltdown in the car.
It’s times like these when I realize that what we’re doing to help him is working. All the Therapy, the work at home and at school are really making life better for him and us as parents. There are times in life when we as parents can be stretched thin and pushed to our limits, but when you have these “break-through moments” as we call them, it puts everything into perspective and makes you feel good about what’s going on with him.