Ania and I were packing up the cooler and getting ready to head out the door to hike at Cooper’s Rock State Park, about an hour from our home. Youngest son decided at the last minute he would rather stay home. I mentally went back over the week’s events before I gave him the okay. It had been a busy week. Two trips to the local fair, one for a few concerts (and some rides). another for barrel racing and demolition derby, an eye appointment with news that he needed glasses and helping his older college-age brother move in and get somewhat situated. I was tired from the long week, but not overwhelmed. I could tell he was. He normally loves climbing on rocks, but it wouldn’t have been a fun outing for him this time. He was overloaded.
Sometimes kids on the spectrum don’t want to come out of their comfort zone at all. They would rather stay home and stick to their routine, play Minecraft or other video games and not have the stress of social interaction. They may want company some days, but only if they call the shots. Company overwhelms them because it requires social interaction. If a child on the spectrum doesn’t know how to walk away from the bustle of an extended family gathering, he may shut down the next day. Kids on the spectrum don’t bounce back quickly from extended social time.
So, where do you draw the line? How do you balance outings with time away from the fray? It’s different with each child. It’s important for us parents to read the signals and help the child regulate. When he is able, he needs to recognize the signals with some help from parents before he can move on to self-regulation. Some kids on the spectrum will grow into adults who need a trusted friend or spouse to help them watch for the signs of overload. It’s not a weakness. It’s a strength.
Think of it like waves. The waves come on the shore, then they recede. When they recede,they gather strength to surge onto the sand again. Life is busier than it has ever been. Our schedules are full to the max and if we are not careful, we can push our kids on the spectrum to meltdown mania. They need time to de-stress. They may need a day off with no demands. If we make this a priority, it will not only benefit us, but the whole household will be happier, calmer.
If you feel as if your family is drowning in a busy schedule and your child or children meltdown all the time, you may need a rest day. Not a day to stay home and do a bunch of other stuff that requires them to participate, just a good old fashioned day off. One where a kid can lie on the ground and watch the clouds go by. One where a kid can build a blanket fort and read books with a flashlight. One where he can pretend for hours. A day to eat dinner on the back deck and stay there talking, laughing, waiting for the fireflies to make their evening debut. A day where the clock doesn’t dictate. A day where Mom can sit down and see all the things a kid has designed on Minecraft and listen, really listen. These sorts of days don’t just happen anymore. Years ago, when I was a child, they did. Now we have to plan them.
Most kids are under too much stress these days. It’s not just kids on the spectrum who need a day off. We all do. Watch for the symptoms of stress in your kids on the spectrum. Be the regulator. Take your foot off the gas and just idle for a day. Stay home. Watch the grass grow. Walmart will still be there tomorrow. So will everything else. If you don’t do what you planned in pen on your calendar, will it really matter ten years from now? Kick off your shoes and help your child de-stress by being the example.
*If you need some help warming up your pretending gears, check out this book to get you and your child going-