Please Be Seated

It’s Spring Break.  Which means the kids don’t have school until next week Tuesday.

Forgive me for not jumping for joy.

Any change in routine can be really difficult for those on the autism spectrum, and my kids are no exception.  This particular “vacation” might be even more problematic than most, since we are working on many home improvements right now.  There are boxes and bins everywhere, and we are not able to give the kids 100% of our attention since we are working on so many things.  We are putting off painting and other big projects until they go back to school, but for now, many projects are half-completed and our house is rather chaotic.  Juliette tends to be the most happy-go-lucky and easily adaptable of our clan, so she is weathering the changes gracefully.  Lennon and I….not so much.

Today, we escaped together and went out to lunch at our favorite little burger joint.  Eating out at a restaurant is another event that can be difficult for autistic people.  I’m never quite sure how it will go with my kids.  Generally either amazingly well….or really horrific.  And there’s no way to know which it will be until we get there.

Luckily, this time we showed up right as the restaurant was opening, and there were only a couple of cars in the parking lot.  Still, Lennon looked rather unsettled as we walked in.  The quick transitions of going from the car, to outside, then into a brightly lit restaurant are somewhat jarring.  We walked past a signpost that read “PLEASE BE SEATED,” and Lennon asked if he could choose our table.  “Sure,” I said.  “Why not?”

I watched as his eyes scanned the dining room.  Two tables were taken, and the patrons were having conversations.  Loud old school gangsta rap (edited versions,thankfully) blared through the surround sound speakers.  Servers and bussers were bustling about.  Lennon was getting the familiar glazed look in his eyes.  He was overwhelmed and starting to shut down.  I saw his eyes settle on the big curved booth in the corner, you know, the ones that are intended for larger parties?  He asked if we could sit there.  I told him that we should probably save that booth for a bigger family, since it was just him and I today.  He looked at me, his eyes piercing, pleading.  “Please, mom?  Please.”

I wasn’t sure why it was so important to him, but I obliged.  He practically ran to the booth and nestled himself into the corner part of the booth.  He exhaled audibly and I watched his body relax.  And then I understood.  With the way the booth curved around, when he was positioned in the corner, he was nearly enclosed on all sides.  This was an ingenious way to block out the onslaught of sensory input around us.

We went on to have a really nice lunch together.  And, later, in the car on the way home, we had another of our really great car talks.  This time, a conversation about the PC version of Minecraft turned into a discussion about how each member of our family has different talents, and also different things that don’t come easily to us.  I told him how I’ve always been clumsy and not very coordinated, and gym class was a nightmare for me, but I am good at drawing.  Daddy knows a ton about technology and building and repairing computers, but he’s not a great typist.  I told him to take pride in the things he is good at, and try not to get down on himself for things that may not come as easily.  Also, it is perfectly acceptable – in fact, commendable – to ask for help with things that we struggle with.

It was a nice little impromptu pep talk, but I’m not sure my advice was really even necessary.  Because I had just watched him put it into practice.  That one moment, where he insisted on sitting at that one specific table, was self-advocacy at its finest.  As he gets older, I observe him identifying and meeting his own needs, and asking for assistance when necessary.  And these seemingly small things are really quite HUGE.

My boy is growing up.

I am so very proud of him.

{ Image is a photo of Lennon, sitting in the corner of the booth at the restaurant, giving me his sweet little smile }



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