Raising a child with a sensory disorder, whether autism or not, is always a challenge. When younger, Steven was the type of kid who would have a huge meltdown if there were tags in his shirts or seams in his socks. Meeting new people was too overwhelming, and a change in his schedule would send him into a tizzy. Holidays were disasters and birthday parties…forget it!
Not used to going out to restaurants because of Steven’s behavior, we threw all caution to the wind and went out to a dinner buffet for my 35th birthday. We chose a very large booth waaaaaaayyyyyy in the back of the restaurant, away from the noise and the crowds. Six year old Steven, who was still on a liquid diet due to sensory issues, curled up in a ball in the corner of the booth. He pulled his hood up over his head to block out surrounding activities and had a jiggle toy in each hand which kept his fingers busy. Giving him a wide berth of personal space, I was pleased as he sipped on his can of Ensure and was part of my birthday dinner. We talked in a soft, low tone and Steven even participated in the conversation from time to time.
It was a delightful night out…until SOMEONE told the staff that it was my birthday. (I suspect is was my youngest son, Angel, who was always selfishly delighted when Steven acted up, thus in his mind reassuring his place as the “good son”.) The staff came over with a lit candle on a cupcake, and sang Happy Birthday in out of sync voices. Steven immediately jerked up from his position, covered his ears and started to screech. He threw himself on the floor under the table and started banging his head against the wall. The happy moment was gone. I imagined people were looking at us as though we were the worst parents in the world! For the first and only time in my life as a mom, I emotionally stomped out of the restaurant in tears, bemoaning the fact that I couldn’t even have a normal, birthday dinner without accusing eyes watching as my husband carried our screaming child out. I was sure they thought he was a spoiled brat who couldn’t behave. Little did anyone know that he had been born to a homeless, schizophrenic mom addicted to heroin and cocaine and that he was so emotionally fragile in those early years that we could rarely leave the house. Little did anyone know that our family had worked hard to help him develop to the best of his abilities, working on his sensory issues so that he could fully participate in our family life to the best of his abilities and that it was a huge accomplishment that we were able to go out to the restaurant in the first place.
Both Steven and I calmed down quickly in the car and life returned to normal. Little did anyone know how deep our love and acceptance was for this child and for all of the issues that came with him and for all of the issues which were to come.
For more stories about Steven’s childhood, please, read my book. Here is a link: