Yesterday, I had the pleasure of taking the day off from work so that I might take my son on a field trip with his preschool class to The Little Buckeye Children’s Museum in Mansfield, Ohio. The museum turns one year old this month and is truly a gem for the community. Its exhibits are full of hands-on activities that allow children to get messy and explore life in the grown-up world.
This was the second of three field trips scheduled for Philip’s class this semester. We didn’t include Philip in the first trip to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History in February, and we have also declined to participate in the trip to the Columbus Zoo next month. When I spoke to Philip’s teachers yesterday, we all agreed that those other trips just won’t benefit Philip as they will the other students.
This destination was a no-brainer. The museum was a relatively short drive away and gave Philip lots of opportunities to move, touch, observe and play. It was just the right for my little sensory-seeker.
I could spend all day writing about yesterday’s two-hour field trip. I took eighty-pictures. Don’t worry–that isn’t a warning of things to come, but an explanation of the volume of material with which I have to work. I began making a list of anecdotes to share, some showing successes, some that are amusing others that were enlightening.
However, in many ways, Philip’s experiences at the museum were not much different from those of neurotypical children. So, in keeping with my commitment to writing a post a day as part of Autism Awareness Month, let me tell you how I almost scarred my son for life.
The visit to the wonderful museum took up most of the field trip, but the teachers had also scheduled time at the nearby Richland Carrousel Park. It was just a short walk away.
After our admission fee was paid, we entered the area with the carrousel. For $2, we would have a thirty minutes on the carrousel or five rides.
As we waited for the operator to prepare the merry-go-round, Philip entertained himself by checking out the candy machines. He was especially intrigued by the gumball machine. At one point, he grabbed my hand to see if I could turn the handle and get one out.
Several times he covered ears during our wait. The calliope music echoed off the walls of the indoor area. I knew that the noise had potential to upset him. Finally, it was time to board for our first ride. Philip rocked from side to side, tugging at my hand each time he rocked away from me. I let the other families go ahead of us in line.
Once we entered through the gate, I decided to select a horse on the outer ring. I didn’t realize at the time that this set of carved animals remains stationary on the platform, but I thought this might work out better for Philip anyway.
Not so much.
First of all, Philip was reluctant to have me set him on the animal. In retrospect, even though many people find the intricately carved beasts to be beautiful, I have to admit that they can be quite frightening in size and appearance. Just look at this stallion with its mouth agape. And think of the shiny, artificial surface-a sensory-sensitive toddler might feel like he could slip off at any moment.
The instructions had been clear-stay on your chosen ride until the brass bell rings. So, despite his obvious tears and anxiety I kept Philip up on the horse, letting him cling to me tightly.
I softly murmured to Philip and let him hug me in a death grip. The ride slowed, eventually stopped and the bell rang.
While waiting for that signal to get off the merry-go-round and reenter, I considered my options: skip the rest of the rides or choose a different animal. I thought he might enjoy the up and down movement of one of the animals in the inner rings.
I was completely wrong.
In my defense, when I later spoke with Mrs. W, the EA, she agreed with my logic. She knows how much Philip enjoys the mechanical horse in the OT room at school. But this wasn’t the same. You can’t tell in the photo above since my mom snapped the photo before the ride began. Once the ride began, Philip held on even tighter than the first time. You can’t see how Philip ended up leaning over every time the wooden cat that I perched him on rose. I tried to ease my conscience by remembering how I read that inverting the head is good for kids with sensory processing disorder.
For the second time as the ride slowed and stopped, I plotted my next move. Even though there was the potential to either cause a meltdown, traumatize Philip or make him afraid of carrousels for the rest of his life, I decided to try to one more time. For the third ride, I carried Philip to one of the benches, or “sleighs” as the operator called them. To play it as safe as I could figure out, I chose the back seat.
Philip held my hand tightly the entire ride, but I noticed that he was also swinging his feet. And he wasn’t crying.
This time, rather than pressing his face against me, Philip was looking around. I knew that lights, vivid paintings, music and motion were a lot to process as he squinted his eyes.
Despite this, we went for a fourth ride. I once again led Philip to a sleigh, but I didn’t have to carry him. I held his hand as he climbed up on to the bench.
This time, he didn’t hold my hand. I could feel that his body had relaxed, and he was turning his head more to take in all of the sights.
By the time the brass bell signaled the end of the fourth ride, I could step from the bench and let Philip get down by himself. In fact, when we entered for our fifth and final ride, he climbed back onto the sleigh with minimal assistance.
I don’t know whether to call it a calculated risk, dumb luck or stubbornness on my part, but my persistence in pushing Philip out of his comfort zone was rewarded with this smile.