Someone asked me recently how Ronan was doing. I shared that he’s doing well and that he’s happy. I also shared that he’s stayed healthy this whole time but added that he’s lost some skills during the quarantine. We’d stayed home for so long not going anywhere, so now he doesn’t like to go out. If he can manage to get in the car, he later doesn’t want to get out of the car. Nothing seems to entice him to want to go out, not even a lunch out after an errand or therapy.
When places started to reopen, I tried to bring Ronan with me. It was no place new we were going but to the usual stores. He refused to go in. While sharing that with the person who asked me how Ronan was doing, I was reminded of the story below. That event happened years ago. Things got better back then the more we practiced going out.
I’d love to reteach Ronan how to be in public again, but he isn’t ready for that right now. Once things go back to normal, we’ll make time to get Ronan in and out of stores. We’ll take him out to restaurants again. We’ll have him join us on the sidelines at sporting events, too. For now, he’d rather be hunkered down here at home. It’s where he feels safest. It’s where he’s happiest. Home. It really is the best place to be.
"Sometimes you wonder if this fight is worthwhile..."
While that lyric comes from more of a romantic-y 80s song, think of that particular line in the form of a message from Ronan to me. I heard it yesterday being blasted from someone else's car in the Walmart parking lot. It played as Ronan was desperately sending a message: he was communicating to me that he did NOT want to go into Walmart.
It was supposed to be a fun shopping trip. I didn't need to get anything, but we were going so Ronan could practice shopping. We haven't had much luck shopping at Walmart lately. He can go in and out of other stores with no problem, but I'm not sure why he struggles with Walmart. I don't know if it's the bright lights, the high ceiling, the constant noise, or the many shoppers. I wonder, too, his legs hurt or if he doesn't think he'll have the energy. But it's become quite difficult for Ronan to even get out of the car let alone walk into the place successfully. Whatever the struggle, we were face-to-face with it again yesterday.
Every time I tried to unbuckle Ronan, he blocked my hands.
Every time I tried to softly encourage Ronan to go with me, he signed no.
Every time I tried to think of something positive to say, Ronan looked at me with sadness.
When he began to vocalize his responses, and when his eyes welled up (which he never, ever does) I knew that the trip was a bust.
"And there are voices that want to be heard..."
Ronan was voicing his response. He was definitely trying to get me to hear them. But was I listening? No, I wasn't.
I'll give him credit, though. Ronan communicated well - he vocalized, signed, and typed his request to not go in. And yet, what did I do? I tried one more time to convince him to go in the store with me. Even with the promise of French fries for his troubles, he said NO.
"Listen to your heart when he's calling for you..."
What was I to do? Force Ronan to go in? I've tried that before. Forcing a non-verbal child with autism to go into a store he doesn't want to go into doesn't work.
So instead, I listened.
I got back in the car. I buckled up. And we drove away. We didn't go straight home though. We went to another store. I'm so glad that we did! There, Ronan successfully browsed, picked out an item, stood in line (behind two customers and in front of a screaming toddler), and bought a new-to-him Wii game.
Did he get his way? No. I don't think that he did. In rerouting our day, we found success elsewhere. Ronan went out. He followed directions. He made others aware of his disability. More importantly, he made others aware of his ability. Ronan shopped, he waited (mostly) patiently, and he made a purchase. That's a whole bunch of progress if you ask me!
Instead of letting a potential incident in the Walmart parking lot rule or ruin the day, we found another solution. That solution allowed us to skip Ronan's frustration, to skip my frustration, and to skip an epic meltdown.
We skipped a quick trip to Walmart yesterday, and that's okay. I don't like shopping there so much either.
Cathy Jameson is a Contributing Editor for Age of Autism.