That poor girl had no idea what to do. She just kept staring at me with a cross between horror and pity on her face. But that’s our crazy life.
Today I decided to take the boy with me to run a few errands. We’d been cooped up in the house all day and I thought it would do him a little good to get out for a few minutes.
Everything started off great. The first stop was right next to a pet store so I agreed that we could go inside to say hi to the animals. In return, the boy assured me he would be on his best behavior for our other stops. We saw fish, turtles, snakes, lizards, parakeets, guinea pigs, and cats. We talked about how cute they were, and the differences in the zones of the oceans, and how reptiles are cold-blooded, and the many different colors of cats waiting to be adopted. You know, boy stuff.
After saying goodbye to all the animals we moved on to stop number one. And the boy did great. No running. No complaining. His only step toward the unusual was his desire to stand just outside the sliding doors while I checked out. This was so he could be the one to step into the path of the sensor when someone was entering and exiting the store. His way of “opening the door” for them.
Our next, and last, stop was Michael’s. I simply needed a few goodie bags to put cookies in. Those are on the main aisle just inside the door. Less than 50 feet from the entrance. I stopped to grab a couple of packages of bags and looked to my left just in time to see his blond head make the turn down an aisle three rows up. Ugh. Here we go.
Here’s the thing about High Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder, it looks mostly normal. You can’t look at either of my kids and immediately go “Yeah, I see the problem.” 90% of the time you would simply think the boy is just a boy: full of energy and headstrong. It’s that other 10% that throws you for a loop. The moment he shifts from average to spectrum behavior will make your head spin. And that’s what happened at Michael’s.
I tracked the boy down in the section that comes close to being a toy section but isn’t actually a toy section. He was floating from display to display deciding which things he wanted to buy even though I had already told him we weren’t buying toys. In an effort to avoid a meltdown I agreed to let him get something that costs not more than $2. That severely limits the options at Michael’s. But he was very intrigued by the animal figures and the smaller ones (which were about $3) were on sale (BOGO 50%). So I decided we could swing that.
I pulled out 3 of the small figures and told him he could choose 2 of them. He reached for the large dragon and said “this one”. Nope, pick 2 of the small ones. It took a few back and forths but he finally chose a penguin and a wolf. Great, let’s head for the exit.
On the way to check out, I saw one more item that I needed to grab and made a quick stop. My back was turned for 5 seconds but that was enough. He was gone again. And this time there was no disappearing head to point me in the right direction. I had to wander the store searching for a glimpse.
I finally found his blond head back by the frames. But as soon as he caught site of me he grinned and disappeared. Then I caught another glimpse over by the paper crafts. Oops, too slow again. Now it’s serious. I put all my items down on a display and started a grid search.
Ladies and Gentlemen! Our fugitive is 4 feet tall with the average speed of a small locomotive. He is somewhere within the walls of this store. I need your help in searching every aisle, shelf, cubby, kiosk, storage room, henhouse, outhouse, and doghouse in the target area. Go get him.
If only that’s how it actually worked.
It took two circuits around the store to find him. Mumbling under my breath and asking other patrons if they’d seen a blonde boy in a black jacket the whole way. When I caught back up with him I used my stern mom voice and he gave me the deer-in-the-headlights look. But he did walk over to me. With an extra toy in his hand.
I was exasperated. We had discussed this, multiple times. He was only allowed the penguin and the wolf. I demanded all the toys be placed in my hand and he knew he was in trouble. Agree with me or not, I don’t believe disobedience gets rewarded. I told him we weren’t getting any of them today. Maybe we can come back another day.
This is where the wheels came off. The average child would pout, maybe cry a little, about the loss of the toys. My spectrum boy goes to full-blown meltdown.
Now, I could have exited the store without buying the things I came for. But my time was limited and I actually needed those things. I could have gone to the car and waited out the meltdown. But, again, my time was limited, and a meltdown can go on for a while. So, I firmly guided the boy back to the front where I left my items, scooped them into my free hand, and joined the now longer line.
During our time in line, the boy whined and groaned, strained and stretched, and did everything possible to remove himself from my grip and race back off into the store. He reached for every interesting and shiny item. He hit my hand to try to break my grip. The whole time I’m staying as calm as possible and simply saying “No” and “please stop” and “calm down.”
When we finally reached the cashier he immediately began trying to reach for the nearby candy. So I unceremoniously threw my items down on the counter, firmly held his hands together with one of mine while grabbing my wallet from my pocket with the other, and used my hip to keep his body between me and the counter.
That poor cashier lost her smile very quickly. Standing before her was a harried mom and a child that appeared slightly possessed. I’m sure the thought of calling a manager crossed her mind. But I continued on with the transaction as calmly as possible, all the while going through gyrations akin to wrestling a greased pig. It was not pretty.
We finally made it out the door and to the safety of the car. The boy went into full screaming destructive meltdown mode – in the car. A place where he can do less harm than in the middle of a retail outlet. I saw several other patrons walk past and glance toward our vehicle. I have no doubt they heard the caterwauling that was coming from my back seat. Maybe they took pity on me or maybe they think the boy is being abused. I don’t know. And I don’t have time to worry about it.
Thinking back on the situation I know there are so many things I could have done differently. Trying to hold his hand the whole time might have caused other problems but maybe not. Definitely shouldn’t have made that last stop that allowed him to get out of my sight. Hindsight is 20-20, as they say.
But I do apologize to the cashier at Michael’s. These things are normal to me and I often forget they freak other people out. So please don’t worry about the possessed boy and his harried mom. 20 minutes later everything was right with the world again.