Someone asked me today: “How does an autistic child react to a crowd? ”
There is no uniform answer for this question, all children have different sensory issue likes and dislikes. Everyone reacts to crowds in their own distinct way, whether it is a typical child or an autistic child. But she made me think about it, and I searched my memory for how Amin behaves in crowds. He doesn’t seem to tune out everyone, nor is he closed off from all the stimuli he is experiencing. He actually enjoys all the sensory input, but I had to learn the warning signs of over-stimulation, which can strike rather suddenly.
I take Amin almost every weekend to attend activities, and most are in a crowded place. Taking him to these events has helped him to build up his tolerance slowly. He has developed amazing coping skills over time. I was never a believer in restricting him from such events and places knowing that sooner or later he is going to have to experience them and hopeful that early exposure would help him get accustomed to dealing with it. I am thankful to God that he has developed the ability to handle it better.
If you have a child with sensory issues, it might be a good idea to take them to a lesser crowded place in the beginning, so both of you can develop a strategy of how to cope with meltdowns, or at least to be able to recognize their signs. After a few outings, you may increase their exposure to larger crowds to help them to cope with those situations gradually. Over time, both the parent and the child will establish a “blue print” of an action plan of what to do in a difficult situation.
Planning and practice are crucial for success. Also, do not give up after a few failed trials. There will be times when you think you can not take the child to any events ever because he is not behaving properly, and you can not take all the stares either. Well, my advice for you is to ignore the ignorant, and know that if you hold your child back, you will deprive him and your family from fun and family time. Now, arm yourself with reinforcers, and make sure you recognize the early signs of over-stimulation, so you can promptly guide the child to a more controlled and quieter environment if it is needed.
Furthermore, parents should exercise all safety measures while out in the crowd. I always hold my kids hands, and I never let them go even for a second. They are used to it by now, and never fight it. For me, this is an integral part of safety.
Others may use different devices. You have the wrist band that you put on a child which has a certain length of a rope with it, so the child can move around a bit more freely. There is a harness that goes around the chest and has a certain length of rope as well to allow the child to move around. I haven’t tried these to be honest.
Furthermore, I make safety cards to put on the child’s backpack and pockets, where I have their last name and my name with a cell phone number and other emergency numbers and a medical condition alert written.
Also, you can order a temporary tattoo with the kids name, and an emergency number on it. It washes off in a day or two, but comes in handy with a non-verbal autistic child when going to a crowded place.
Some parents go as far as writing the name and cell phone number on the child’s arm with permanent marker. I never did that but it is an idea to think about if you cannot get access to any other means and you fear your child getting loose in the crowd and maybe getting lost. There is also a new website that offers much information about wandering and how to prevent tragedy. Please visit this site, because we can learn so much from there.
Our Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha is tomorrow. Eid prayer is very crowded and has lots of sensory stimuli before, during and after the prayer . There is no reason to withhold yourself and your families from this celebration. It is nice to take the child and allow them to participate in this joyous celebration. Have your plan in place, and prepare the child with much anticipation. If they see you being a nervous wreck, you will fail in this attempt. Allow the child to feel control and stability. If the prayer is being held outside, do not stress out about the noise the child makes. Take him for a walk during the sermon if necessary, and sit in the back for the prayer. Bring some edible reinforcers to keep them well fed and satisfied.
Lastly, if anyone makes an ignorant comment about your autistic child, simply ignore it. As the Quran teaches us “ignore the ignorant”:
Our special children need all the support, teaching, and exposure to a variety of things. Please be the kind of parent to your special child as you would be to your typical child, and then some. Love them, care for them, be their advocate, be their life coach. Treat them with kindness, firmness, and fairness.
I hope to see you out there in the crowd with a big smile on both of your faces.