(or more appropriately, going to the golf course)
My mother is getting married this weekend. We are all very excited for her – she has met a wonderful guy and lightning really seems to have struck twice for her. When we heard the news I couldn’t wait to share it with the boys. As I was telling them all about it, who would be there, and when it would be, these words came out of Howie’s mouth:
“Mom? Will you keep me safe at Grandma’s wedding?”
Initially, I didn’t know what to say. I wasn’t exactly sure what he meant, and gave a quick “Of course! It’s my job to keep you safe.” and dismissed it at that. My kids have been to many weddings (including their other grandmother – how many kids can say they’ve been to both grandmothers’ weddings?) so it wasn’t the fear of the unknown.
As I found out a bit later, it was the fear of the known.
A few weeks later, we were talking about the wedding again. And again Howie asked me if I would keep him safe. As the wheels began to spin in my head, I asked him what he meant by that. “The music, Mom. And the noise. Will you keep me in a safe place so I’m not near the noise?”
Any excitement I had been feeling about the wedding turn to instant panic. Howie’s sensory processing disorder was about to take over any and all planning for the event. As I mentioned, we had been to several weddings before, including a few loud ones about 2 years ago. We spent most of the reception outside in the mud – Tim and I couldn’t even drag him into the tent when the music was playing. Finally we gave up, and went back to our room to escape. But that was different. We didn’t have to be part of the festivities. This was my mother’s wedding, and I (we) had to be there.
In the past, I would have melted into a total state of anxiety, my head filled with ways that this could go wrong. Instead, I called on my army of supporters – his teachers from school and his occupational therapists. They know him almost as well as I do. And I asked for help.
His incredible teachers and OT sprang into action and helped me form a game plan. First we created a social story for him about the wedding weekend. For those of you who don’t know what a social story is, it’s an “intervention attempt to improve the social skills of children with spectrum disorders by using individualized short stories to help them interpret challenging or confusing social situations. The stories have a specifically defined style and format. They describe a situation in terms of relevant social cues, the perspective of others, and often suggest an appropriate response.” (thank you Wikipedia) It’s a way of using pictures and words to help prepare the kids for what is coming, so that transitions are easier and the routine is predictable.
His teacher used pictures of our family to describe each day what was going to happen – from the day we leave until the day we come home. She used a format that was familiar to Howie from school so he understood it completely. She wrote places where he might see lots of people, prepared him that the party might be loud, and there will be a lot of unfamiliar smells from the food, and that he can ask in a “just right voice” anytime he needs a break. She had pictures of him in handsome clothes, and wrote that we would be taking lots of pictures. She even wrote out a list of 4 wedding rules for him to follow during the ceremony. His teacher came over to the house yesterday and went through it step by step. And although the picture she used for our car wasn’t exactly right as Howie pointed out, he really got it. At one point he told her that he wanted to be in a safe place for the wedding, and she showed him the page for asking for breaks and gave him the words to use with us. It was awesome.
Next we put on our SPD lens (thanks Martianne) and looked at the weekend through Howie’s eyes so we could anticipate his needs. I bought Therabands for the car ride up and have his weighted blanket ready to go for both the car and for sleeping. I’m bringing his own pillow for the bed. I asked my mother if she could put us at an end of the head table as far away from the dance floor and speakers as possible, and we’re bringing our noise canceling headphones. Tim’s in charge of taking him outside to the golf course area or even the car if he gets overloaded at the reception. We thought about at staying at a hotel when the weather looked like it was going to be in the 90 degree range because Howie sleeps in long sleeves and four blankets and there’s no air conditioning at my mother’s house. Now the weather looks a little more tolerable, and with some fans for air and white noise I think staying with at her house with my family will be possible. We’re going to stay busy – walks, kickball games with cousins, races before the wedding, lifting suitcases, obstacle courses – anything to keep his body moving as much as we can to give him the sensory input he needs.
And of course, lots and lots of hugs and squeezes whenever it is requested. Because after all, it is my job to keep him safe. Even at my mother’s wedding.
“Spring is here,
theeee sky is blue.
Whooooa! the birds all sing as if they knew.
Today’s the day, we’ll say, “I do”and we’ll never be lonely anymore.” - Going to the Chapel by The Crystals