Code Black: Company’s Coming
Some friends are coming for dinner tonight. I know that this is a thing that people do. It’s a thing we do. We like food. Our friends like food. Are there people who don’t like food? We like to eat food with people who like food. Therefore, company’s coming for dinner tonight.
The difference in our house, is that having people over is like someone throwing a grenade through the kitchen window. Is it live? Will it explode? Does it matter? Take cover, man. Code black.
For a kid with autism who struggles with new situations, new people, noise, and changes in routine, having people over is not a thing that is enjoyable without support. Home is his sanctuary. His resting place and quiet retreat from the exhaustion of the outside world. Going out to be with people is different, because we are careful about our outings to begin with and if things get to be too much, then we can leave. When people come here, there is no leaving. They are just here. Andreas is quite polite enough to understand that you do not ask people to leave or tell them you don’t want them in your house anymore. He asks me when they’re going instead.
Knowing your kid’s triggers and managing them well is very much like dismantling a bomb. We get so good at it, that others don’t even realize we’re doing it. Do we cut the red wire or the blue wire? The blue one. Obviously. Now please pass the ketchup or he won’t eat his food. Over the years, we’ve figured out what works best for Andreas, ourselves, and our guests when people come into our home. It’s all trial, error, blood, sweat, tears, and ketchup actually. I was serious about the ketchup.
What works though, like really works?
1. An Escape Plan
Andreas likes a good meal and a good time as much as the rest of us. He tends to get over the good times faster than the rest of us though. What he needs, before anyone ever shows up, is an escape plan. Once he’s had it, he’s had it. There’s no turning that ship around; we’re on a countdown and the clock is ticking. He needs to know that he can go rest in his bedroom with a book or his iPad and be happy being himself, instead of being forced to act happy for everyone else until he explodes. Reminding him ahead of time that he can do this, is the most important part of having people over. Sometimes when he’s overwhelmed, he forgets that his bedroom is a staircase away and we need to point him in the right direction. You do you, kid. Be happy.
2. A Schedule
Not like a real, written up schedule – although we’d do that if he needed it. But verbally explaining everything that is going to happen before it happens, needs to happen. These are the people who are coming. This is when they are coming. This is what we are eating. These are some ideas of what you can play, if kids are coming. This is how long people are staying, or if we don’t know then we say we don’t know how long they are staying. Some families use a picture schedule for less or non verbal kids. We do this when we go out too. Spontaneity is not our thing. Our spontaneity involves a lot of foresight. We are not sorry.
3. Clear Expectations
Where food is involved, we have to run interference. Andreas will gag or throw up if he sees or smells something he doesn’t like. I tend to get him his food or tell him what is available to him. We remind him that he cannot say “that is disgusting” if there is food he doesn’t like. “No thank you” will do just fine. Having a house full of people can make a kid forget the normal rules. Reminding them that the expectations don’t change when there is a house full of people is very important. Just because so and so hit you in the face doesn’t mean you can hit them back in the face. (That has never happened, it just came to mind as an example.)
Spelling out what’s in it for him, helps. These are the kids who are coming. Remember when you guys did this and it was so fun? Or telling them they get to rent a movie. Or that they’ve got a certain treat for after dinner. These are normal things that everybody does, I think. But the difference is that for a kid who needs something to look forward to in a situation that feels overwhelming before it’s happened, having that incentive gives him something positive to focus on. Filtering is hard, even for so called “high functioning” kids. He sees the whole picture. The people. The noise. The gross food. The good food. The movie. The fun. The annoying adults asking him questions. It’s kind of a lot. Filtering out everything except the incentive helps him look forward to the good part(s). Typical kids may do this naturally but kids with extra needs often don’t and need an adult to help them learn how.
Sometimes we can answer his questions and give him everything he needs and the night is going to suck for him anyway. 10 minutes in and he’s in his room. Maybe he had a crappy day. Maybe he’s tired. Maybe nothing is wrong but he just needs peace and quiet and alone time. Okay. That needs to be okay. Just getting through the day is work for him. He doesn’t owe us an explanation. Adults love explanations. “Is he tired?” “Is he coming down with something?” Yes, no, maybe, we don’t know. It doesn’t really matter does it? One more thing at the end of the day might simply be out of the question. That thing families do where they are on the go all the time, and they actually like it? We are not that family. I require a lot of downtime. So it is totally not a problem for me that Andreas also requires a lot of down time. One day out of a week where we are on the go from morning to night, can throw him (and me) off for several days to come. Our pace is not the same pace other families can keep. There has to be grace for that among us, and the people we have in our lives.
Company’s coming for dinner tonight. I’m cleaning my kitchen and making room on our coat rack at the door and pretending I am ever going to get the pee smell out of the bathroom. And disarming bombs before they go off. You know. Code black. Because our home wouldn’t be the same without Andreas. He brings a certain je-ne-sais-quirky to our lives and we want him to have a good time, whatever that means for him. To know Andreas is to love him. The bomb isn’t him. The bomb is whatever gets thrown into his world to disrupt it – the people, the dinner, the whatever. We are disarming the situation, not the boy. The boy is just right. This is his sanctuary. His resting place. We like to keep it that way.
copyright (c) 2016 Jenna Pelias // all rights reserved