Anyone who has children knows that it is impossible to project any picture of perfection ....especially in public. Any child is going to test your limits and the limits of what is appropriate behavoir in public.
I don't care and never really have cared what other people think of my family or my son when we go out in public. However, because of his Autism and the tantrums it can cause, we just don't take him out to stores very often, he has not been in a restaurant since he was very little and he has never seen a movie in a movie theatre. We just got used to running errands solo or with Olivia because his behavior was so unruly for so long. We wouldn't take him for a while and then we would give it a shot and it would be a disaster.
We have always been consistent when he has had a meltdown-immediately remove him the the store/situation and not give in.
As Stephen has gotten older he has matured so much and learned how to behave really well most of the time. We have been taking him out more over the years as he has been able to tolerate all the noises, smells and stimulation that being a public place can bombard him with. He has learned that his tantrums will not be tolerated and will not get him what he wants. Over the past couple of years there have been maybe one or two times we have taken him to a store and he has had a complete meltdown.
This ratio of high success to low meltdowns has lulled us into a false sense of security when taking him out. Just like the two seizures he had in the almost 4 years since he was diagnosed blindsided us, this weeks full blown meltdown showed us that we still have to handle Stephen with extreme care and be more sensitive to his triggers when we take him to a store.
We went to Target and got there right before it opened on Saturday morning. We were excited to be there while it almost empty and felt so confident that this would be a problem free shopping trip. Why wouldn't it be? We had all gone to Walmart two weeks before right when they opened and shopped for two hours and Stephen was cool as a cucumber except for the occasional bout of loud echolalia in an annoyed tone to tell us he was getting impatient.
So we had gone to the book/movie/music section of Target and Pat stayed there with Stephen and Olivia and I went to hunt down a Mr. Potato head for my friend's son for Christmas. Pat and Stephen caught up with us and Pat showed me a Golden Books 65 year anniversary collection that Stephen wanted. I looked it over and said no. He has had every single one of those books individually over the years and had not shown any interest in them over the past year and I had donated most of them. Of course, the fact that Stephen is so picky, can't verbally tell us what he wants most of the time and his adorable little face made me put it in the cart. And immediately I changed my mind and made Pat take him to put it back.
That was a bad mommy move and boy did I pay for it soon thereafter.
Pat came back with Stephen and the books. I took him back there myself and a battle royal ensued. First, Stephen dug and then scratched the backs of both my hands when I tried to make him leave the area. Then he was screaming full force and pulled on me and was acting like the stone that could not be moved. I ended up calling Pat's phone and he came over and walked BEHIND/BESIDE him all the way out to the car while he screamed and carried on.
I was waiting for security to tackle Pat and accuse him of kidnapping. Luckily, this has never happened but you have no idea how hard it is to get a tantruming 11 year-old out of a store without a lot of very concerned eyes on you wondering if they need to intervene in what looks like a possible kidnapping.
I didn't want to give into the tantrum because we never have. Stephen is going to be a full size man some day and we don't want to have to deal with man size tantrums!
WTF just happened?!!!
Number one-Stephen just really wanted those damn books. This could not have been predicted or avoided.
Number two-I put the books in the cart. That is Stephen's signal that we are going to buy him something.
Number three-I took the books out of the cart which basically told Stephen that I was a horrible mother because I made him think he was getting his precious books and then snatched them away. Bad mommy.
I never should have put the damn books in the cart. That must have been very confusing for him. But I also didn't want him to think he was going to be able to get his way after freaking out and hurting me so we had to stick with the decision to not let him get the books and follow through with removing him from the store.
Would Stephen still have had a meltdown if I had never put those books in the cart? Don't know. Autism is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get. This kind of experience made me realize once again, how unpredictable Autism can be. Yes, I will continue to be happy about and celebrate all the times he is well behaved and we are able to go about our business in a store without incident. However, as this little scenario illustrates we need to always be on our toes and never assume that he isn't a very sensitive and very unpredictable boy.
This story does have a happy ending. After spending about 15 minutes in the car with Pat and Pat driving to another entrance in the mall, Stephen was back to his calm self. We sat on a bench inside and waited for Hallmark to open. He was very affectionate with me. He found a little Dr. Suess quote book and I bought it for him because I knew I was a twirp for what had happened in Target. I also had a $5 off coupon! But Stephen thinks he got the book because he was being calm and well behaved.
Later that night when we got home I found that Golden Books collection on line and got it half off with discounts and free shipping. I'll save it for his birthday so he won't think he got his way. I know I had a moment where I goofed as a mom.
Being a good parent is being able to admit to your kids you messed up and that you are sorry.
I hope he gets that message when he opens those books up on his birthday : )