Autism. Routine. Structure. Predictability. Sameness. Uniformity. Repetition.
Surprise?? This word very rarely features in our day to day life. I know what Caleb will say as soon as he wakes up, I know what he will choose for breakfast, I know what movies he will pick to watch, I know what games he will play, I know how he will react to change and I know what situations will make him anxious. I like to think I have a fairly good grip on his reactions and I can usually predict what his next steps will be but just sometimes he will do something completely unexpected and he will catch me by surprise.
One of these surprises came last week. Caleb attended a school trip to a pantomime. His school had been lucky enough to be able to provide a whole school trip to the pantomime all free of charge. There was much excitement and a realisation that this was a great opportunity for the kids. The trip would involve a 60 minute bus journey, the show itself and the bus journey home again. An early lunch was scheduled and the pupils would all return to school at tea time. I signed the permission slip a few weeks before the event wondering if Caleb would actually go.
We started preparing for the trip a few days before; we spoke about what a pantomime is, what Caleb could expect to see, we watched clips of panto’s, we talked about the theatre, we explained it would be dark with bright lights on the stage. We went over the time schedule – how lunch would be early, tea would be late, how the bus journey might be longer than 60 minutes if there’s traffic.
He worried about it all – his tea being late would mean his bath would be late then his bedtime would be late. But his lunch was early and that would mean he would need the toilet earlier and would he be able to go to the toilets at the theatre. What if he didn’t like the noise – he didn’t think he could eat at the panto with all the people there. I reassured him over and over, told him he didn’t have to go. I wondered if I should make the choice for him; I didn’t think he could cope with this and I didn’t want it to traumatise him from future trips. I didn’t think he’d like the noise, the busyness, the different time schedule. I thought he’d be too uptight about all the arrangements to even enjoy the show. However, he was adamant that he wanted to go and with the support of the school I felt I had to give him the chance. I reluctantly dropped him in the playground to wait for the bus.
I thought about him all afternoon – was he coping?, had he eaten?, did he need the toilet?, was he enjoying the whole thing? Then messages on my phone alerting me the buses were stuck in traffic and they’d be late home. We’d prepared him for this but I figured the meltdown would be inevitable on his return. I got his room ready to have some cool down time when he got back – I was certain the whole experience would bring a meltdown when he got back to the safety of home.
Surprise: I collected my little boy from school at 6pm and instead of finding a boy ready for meltdown I found an excited boy ready to tell me about his trip! He was so excited that he was at school late, he laughed all the way home as he recited the jokes from the panto, he was animated and loud as he acted out the scenes he’d watched. He told me he loved it and that he’d had a great day! Later as he got into bed I realise we’d had no meltdown. It seems such a small thing but I felt such pride that he’d done it – he’d managed a school trip and managed it well.
I like to think I have a fairly good grip on his reactions and I can usually predict what his next steps will be but just sometimes he will do something completely unexpected and catch me by surprise.