Back in 2012, a friend of mine, who happens to be editor of a local magazine, asked me to interview and write a story about a local speech pathologist who's doing some great things in her practice. After talking with her, I realized that a lot of what she does is rooted in one simple phrase:
There's always a reason.
Nearly 5 years later, that's the advice that sticks with me the most out of every little thing I have learned or been told about autism and helping my son learn how to navigate this world. I wish it was so internalized that I never forget it, but I'm not quite there yet. However, I'm starting to plant that seed in Brandon now.
We went to Costco one weekend a while back. My motivation was slightly selfish. I'd been wanting a Costco-sized vat of coconut oil, but Matt kept coming back saying they don't carry it anymore. It didn't seem possible that Costco would drop such a popular product so I made a rare appearance at Costco to check Matt's assertion.
Yes, I totally insisted we go to Costco on a busy Sunday afternoon just because I wanted a vat of coconut oil. Motivation is a funny thing, people.
Turns out I was right about Costco not getting rid of coconut oil. There on the right, just before we entered the gauntlet of people waiting for a cashier to check them out, was the object of my desire. I was tempted to buy two - yanno, just in case Matt's hunt and gather skills weren't the real issue. But I resisted.
With our mission accomplished, Brandon decided he was hungry. I'm pretty sure it's a conditioned response for him. He actually said looking at all the food was making him hungry. But I think at least part of it was knowing that Costco hot dogs are just on the other side of the cash.
Matt braved the line while I took Brandon to get food.
We sat down after prepping B's hot dog and drink, surrounded by people filling their bellies after the harrowing experience of going through Costco on a Sunday. If they did a study, they'd probably figure out 99% of the people eating at Costco after shopping are stress eating.
It was noisy. However, there was one contributor to the noise that stood out from the rest of the din - a little boy who was around 6 or 7 years old. He was loudly and consistently upset for about 15 minutes. And Brandon noticed. Well, everyone did, but there were no dirty looks at his mother or the little guy that was having a rough time.
Brandon made a couple of comments about how loud the "baby" was being. (He never actually looked for the source of the noise.) So, I told him that places like Costco and other big stores can be really hard on people - especially kids - because of the fluorescent lights, ambient noise and the sheer volume of people and things to look at.
I told him about the time several years ago that he himself got tired of walking around and just laid down in the middle of an aisle and refused to move on. He'd had enough and couldn't cope with all the sensory information coming at him anymore. He didn't know how to say he was overwhelmed, so he communicated it in the only way he knew how: He stopped.
As an adult, I still struggle to recognize and stick to my limits. We get caught up in all the things we have to, need to, want to or should do and forget that we also need to stop the constant flow of information and other sensory stimulation in our brains so we can recharge.
Life happens and we keep plugging away because that's what we do. Kids haven't picked up that skill and, in a way, I hope Brandon never does. I'd consider it a great success if I can teach him to respect his own limits. For now, I'm working on teaching him to recognize them.
I've had a lot of extra stress that I've plowed through for months and I'm pretty exhausted. And I know it's impacting me because I have been sick at least once a month this year. But I've done very little to address the real problem. I just keep going.
But there's always a reason.
Whether it's a kid screaming in the middle of a crowded, busy store or an adult experiencing life stress, we all need to be compassionate with each other and ourselves.
I re-learn this lesson pretty regularly the hard way. Don't we all?