My oldest is 13 – my youngest is 8, so I have been riding this train for a while now. It’s taken me most of this time to realize that I can plan and try to foresee issues until I am about to pull my hair out; only to find that what I thought would be an issue was nothing, and vice versa. It took taking my kids to a comic convention to finally accept that if my kids WANT to be somewhere, it is ok. If they don’t, their sensory nightmare becomes everyone’s sensory nightmare.
All 4 of my kids have sensory issues of varying degrees. Loud noises, busy environments, lighting plethoras are typical triggers of hell. I historically tried to avoid taking them places that resemble that remark.
So when the campaigning began for my younger 3 kids to go with their older sister and I to the Indiana Comic Con (I had previous plans to take her to meet “Clara” from Doctor Who), I was immediately telling them that they wouldn’t enjoy it because of all the noise etc. They were adamant they wanted to go. I conceded and we redid plans to make it a family event (we also had tickets for AMA Supercross that evening).
Our family converged on the Indianapolis Convention Center. I had a backpack full of headsets, sunglasses, Advil, iPads and comfort toys. (On a side note, my motto is “prepare for the worst, hope for the best”). I was definitely prepared for the worst. We entered and the sensory assault was immediate – there were hordes of people in all genres of costumes. I looked at them looking at all the sensory carnage and braced myself for the anxiety-filled requests to get out of there. Instead, they started stimming in excitement and wanted to go where they could see MORE people. So, we went and the only fussing that occurred- was at ME for them not having costumes!
Then came an unexpected bonus – they began approaching characters and asking to take a picture with them! This was huge for two reasons – first, they were voluntarily talking to people. Second, they actually wanted their picture taken!
We left the con before the sensory overload occurred (and I know it WOULD have at some point). They had in-depth discussions of the next comic con and what they would be dressing up as so that people would request taking pictures with them. The autism mom in me was marveling at the social skills benefits this could have as I voiced my approval. The geek in me was jumping for joy that we would be able to attend future conventions.
Since then, I’ve come up with a list of places that have similar sensory environments (lights, people, noise) and my kids tolerance to them. Let me reiterate that this is for my children only. Some people may be able to relate, some won’t and that is ok.
In conclusion, I can’t always predict the sensory impact some environments will have on my children. However, I have learned that if they WANT to be in it, their tolerance for the carnage is much higher.
Our next event is Fandomfest in Louisville in August. They want epic FNAF and Doctor Who cosplay attire. I better get on that….