Clapping. The bane of Debbie’s existence. To a degree, I must confess, I feel bad for her. Clapping to her is like scraping a knee to us. It hurts. Bad. But, like anything else, she is learning to cope with this sensory overload. Does she always cope well? No. However, when push comes to shove, she is learning how to deal with this anxiety better than before, and as long as she is warned that there might be clapping in any given situation, she can get through it.
Today, for the second time this summer, we met my dad for lunch at Red Robin. While eating lunch at this restaurant may be inconsequential to most people, to us it’s the equivalent of climbing a mountain. You see Red Robin is a place that has been on the banned list for many, many years. In fact, the last time we were there they still had analogue television sets. We avoided Red Robin like the plague, not because the food was bad. It’s pretty decent, actually. We stopped going because the meltdowns Debbie had were out of control. A lot of people go to Red Robin to celebrate their birthdays. Birthdays were bad for us. Singing and clapping led to throwing, screaming, hitting, spitting, and every other behavior under the rainbow. So we stopped going. Why put Debbie in a situation that was going to cause stress and anxiety for all of us? There are tons of other restaurants to choose from and so we did.
Every once in awhile we would drive by, and I would broach the subject ever so carefully with Debbie. Her response was usually an emphatic, “Nope! Not today! We go to Red Robin another day!” This summer, however, I randomly mentioned it as a choice once again. I truly feel that I need to have her try things that are not in her comfort zone. Otherwise, she will always avoid difficult tasks and the teacher in me just can’t live with that. When I posed the idea of eating at Red Robin again, this time, Deb said, “Yes. We eat mac-n-cheese and drink soda!” Wow! Whod’ve thunk it? I was elated and off we went. The restaurant was still noisy with lousy acoustics, but the old analogue TVs were gone, having been replaced with large digital televisions hanging from the ceiling. All in all, the same sensory overload that could prove to be a nightmare for Debbie. But it wasn’t. She was happy. She sat. She ate her mac-n-cheese and drank her Coke. There were no birthdays. We ate our lunch, enjoyed one another’s company, and went home. PHEW!!!!
Today’s visit was a little different. Deb was excited to go and see my dad. She was ready to eat mac-n-cheese and drink Coke. I messed up because I forgot to remind her about the clapping potential. All was fine. We had a lovely greeter and server. We ordered our meal and we chatted. We were almost finished when…the clapping started. It was like it all happened in slow motion. First, Debbie picked up a cup, and before we could stop her, she chucked it across the table. Then she chucked cup number two and finally, a salt grinder was tossed before I managed to get her out of the restaurant. Once I got Debbie out and seated onto a bench, she wrapped her arms around me and held onto me for dear life. She was breathing heavily and she had silent tears streaming down her face. I soothed her and talked her through it. We came up with a plan for the next time. My dad came out and I had Debbie apologize because he got the brunt of her anxiety. He was soooo understanding! He told her it was okay and that he loved her. Thanks for that, Dad. I really needed that support in that moment. I love you to the moon and back!!
I also need to give props to the Red Robin staff. They were so polite and so helpful. They came over, asked if they could help, and started cleaning. I told them she didn’t like clapping. They were truly understanding about our situation. I’ve heard many stories of people being insensitive and rude during situations like the one we had today. This was not the case at all, and I am fortunate enough to find that people are always more empathetic versus apathetic during chaotic times like these.
So, yeah, Autism ain’t always sunshine and lollipops, but in hindsight, we climbed some mountains today. Although Debbie threw several things, she allowed me to guide her outside, and instead of hitting me, she hugged me. She processed what she needed to do next time. That. Right there. There will be a next time!!! Huge for her. Also, driving home, I know she could feel my distress. It was hanging there in the space between us. She looked at me, took my hand in hers, and apologized. When I asked her if she was going to throw things next time, she said, “Noooo!” When I asked her what was she going to do instead, she said, “Cover my ears.” She also said, “There might be clapping. I’m going to cover my ears.” The seed has been planted. Now let’s watch it grow!
*A special thanks to All Over The Spectrum for allowing me to use her picture in this blog!