Last night, Philip, my parents and I went to a surprise birthday party. I mentioned the event in yesterday’s post.
The party was a success on all fronts. The guest of honor was indeed surprised. When she stopped by our table she remarked, “You know how some people suspect? That wasn’t me. I had no idea.”
My friend’s preparations were complete-not only did her subterfuge work, the decorations were lovely, the location offered great food, and she had also ordered a fantastic cake for the event.
On a personal level, the party was a success since Philip attended without incident. In this post from last Monday, I had written about how we haven’t taken Philip to a restaurant for over a year. When I was writing about that, I hadn’t thought about the fact that a week later I would be sitting in a restaurant booth with my son.
That doesn’t mean that I did not think and plan ahead. A combination of good luck and preparation led to a surprisingly pleasant evening.
Good luck on Saturday came in the form of Philip taking an early nap. I did not have to wake him up to get ready. He gradually woke on his own. This always makes a difference in his mood.
I packed the diaper bag while Philip moved around and stretched his legs after his nap. Soon, it was time to head to my parents’ for the thirty-minute drive to the neighboring city. When we arrived, we walked the two blocks from the parking lot to The Little Buckeye Children’s Museum.
We spent about thirty minutes here. It was too loud and full of kids for my taste. The volume of people were such a contrast to attendance during our recent field trip. Philip seemed unperturbed. My dad agreed with me that it was a bit overwhelming, and we both had to laugh that all of the people and activity appeared to bother us more than it did Philip.
Of course, at times he behaves as if he is unaware of other people. For example, I stayed with him when he climbed in the treehouse area to go down the slide. He recognized this right away from our last visit. There were older kids running up the stairs, rushing to the slide and jumping in as fast as they could. Unlike our visit during the field trip when Philip and I were the only two in the exhibit, there was a steady line of kids for the slide. I had to make sure that Philip didn’t step in front of one of the running kids. Hmm. Maybe he wasn’t he only one not paying attention.
After three trips down the slide, we steered Philip to other areas of the museum. Since we were headed to the party, we kept him away from the water table. The garden area in the rear was the least crowded, so we could let Philip play there more independently. Then, we moved into the adjacent library area. There I bounced him on a huge therapy ball and then he rocked side to side for a while.
By this time, the theater exhibit had been cleared of the live snakes (“Why did it have to be snakes?”) brought in for the reptile show, so I let Philip play there. He set himself to sorting the grapes that had migrated from the market exhibit.
By this time, I could see that my dad had reached his noise and kids quota for the day, plus it was getting close to the time we were supposed to assemble at the diner. We walked the two blocks back to the restaurant.
When we arrived, many others were already there. My friend suggested the corner booth in the rear. She had thoughtfully left some toys on the counter in the back for Philip. I, too, had packed a variety of objects.
Philip sat in the booth for the next hour. That’s right-an hour. Having given him some time to walk, play and be active before going to the party made all of the difference. The bag of toys helped, too. First he played with a pipe cleaner, twisting and shaping it for several minutes. I looked over to find that he had carefully put it back in the diaper bag when he was finished.
Next, I let Philip play with a pair of straws. Again, his occupied him for several minutes. When he was done, he stuffed one in the diaper bag and the other in my drink.
I next pulled out a tiny toy airplane. He was playing with this when our food arrived. I shared a hamburger with Philip. He was eating just fine until curiosity caused him to move a menu on the table. Said menu had been strategically placed to hide the basket of personalized M & Ms on the table. As soon as Philip saw the candy, he was done with the hamburger. I let him eat a few before I had a chance to hide the rest of the packet in the diaper bag.
Grandma had ordered a bacon cheeseburger with the bacon on the side. She now offered a part of a slice to Philip. The M & Ms were forgotten and soon the two slices of crisp bacon had disappeared. More food items were offered (a french fry, a graham cracker, part of a bun) and declined. Thankfully, none of the rejected items were thrown.
Since Philip seemed to be done eating, I next got out play-dough. The danger in this is that he might mistake this as another food offering. Fortunately, he remembered playing with the stuff before, and spent the next quarter-hour rolling, smooshing and manipulating the putty.
Since almost an hour had passed, I offered Philip milk to drink. As he drank, he gradually worked his way out of the booster seat and onto my lap. Soon, he was wiggling to be let down. I let him stand beside our booth, holding his hand while he rocked side to side. My parents and I agreed that it was time to get going. Just before we parted, Philip rocked sideways into a chair and began to cry. Otherwise, he had not fussed for the entire time.
The party was a great litmus test. It goes to show that, in the right setting and with the right circumstances and preparations, Philip can have a good experience. That means the rest of the family can also enjoy dining out with him. I know that the sensory activities before made a difference, especially when I compare last night with tonight’s Sunday Supper at the grandparents’.
Today, despite a trip to the park, Philip had a hard time falling asleep. I woke him to leave for my parents’ by changing his diaper, putting on his shoes and carrying him to the car. I didn’t get a chance to let him wake up on his own or gradually in the back yard. He didn’t cry, but he was a bit grumpy throughout the evening.
Once we got at my parents’, there was quite enough time for our usual dog-walk. Instead, Philip did a minimal amount of walking around the house before he sat him in the high chair for supper. He wanted out almost immediately. He ate, but was soon clamoring to escape. He was temporarily distracted with some play-dough and then with a puzzle, but he sat still for a fraction of the time compared to the night before.
It wasn’t until after supper that Philip got to chase bubbles in the backyard, run with a pin wheel and go on our evening walk with the dog. Because of this, he wasn’t as content to sit still for supper as he had been at the party.
This weekend was just another learning experience for me. I think it is an example of how autism awareness starts with me. Of course, just because the official month ends tomorrow doesn’t mean that I will stop being aware or stop learning. You never know what surprises await.