In our neighborhood we have a big 4th of July she-bang so nobody has to drive anywhere, and people invite their family and friends here rather than having to go somewhere else. Yes, we’re a selfish bunch. The parents of kids who live here all know each other really well, we know which kids are trouble-makers, and whose cousins to keep an eye out for, etc. We expect parents to keep an eye on their own kids, there are no babysitting services. If your kid is obnoxious or a troublemaker, your job is to take care of it, not ours, but if you don’t, we will. That’s our way to keep it all flowing. Of course kids are kids, we don’t expect perfection, but usually a stern word or two or a 15 min timeout from the bounce house or slip n slide is enough to shape up most kids. Most NT kids.
Our kids are special needs, in variety of ways, FASD, attachment issues, sensory issues, impulse control issues. So let’s just say I spend the day knowing where my kids are and in past years they were required to stay together at all times so it was easier to keep an eye out on them. I’d enlist someone else to help usually, who understood. Then as they grew and developed more control, were able to handle more stimulation, eventually one could separate off and only be checked on (every 15 minutes at first), and this year was the first year they were not only allowed to be completely separate from each other, but were not checked on every 15 minutes. Which was really good, because we have a toddler now, and this is the first year she could walk! LOL But it was such a good feeling, to know that not only could my boys be within the culdesac, maybe out of sight on the bounce house or the slip n slide, but still within 100 feet of me, and know things were ok. And if things were not ok, the parents and neighbors would immediately either correct them or report it to us or both (the boys know this too). It felt good. It felt…weird. Normal? No, because normal isn’t a feeling, it’s not something you notice. But it was good. But it’s been years and years of hard work and supervision and missing out on things to get to this point. It didn’t just “happen”. We have missed so many events like this over the years, we’ve gone home early, we’ve sat in the car, etc. We just didn’t “expect” it to happen, they had to be taught, trained, again and again, and we had to give up our freedoms, our fun, to make it happen. I say all this to preface the story I’m about to tell about the day – to show, that yes, WE understand the nonfun and suckiness of having a special needs child and special events like this.
One of the guests has a child on the spectrum. We know this child pretty well. Another invisible special need, looks fine on the outside, has little appropriate social skills, and first line of reaction to any conflict seems to be physical threats or aggression. We get it. Been there done that, as they say. We had a talk with the parents ahead of time asking them to keep a close eye on the child, he is larger and there are lots of little kids, and physically acting out or threatening is not tolerated regardless of disability, parental supervision was required. Father agreed to supervision all day. But, that didn’t happen, like other times this family has been around events. And, there was trouble with little kids and this child, as other times, which were reported to us (as all kid problems were if the parents of the child were either our guests or unknown to the parent witnessing the problem, so we could track down the parents to inform them of serious or what we viewed as serious issues). Several reports were made about this child being physical, and the parents were informed. The father came in to complain to his wife, not realizing I was sitting right there. I listened while he ranted, saying how everyone was picking on his kid but all the kids were being bad, things like that. Once he finished, and seemed to have it all out, then I spoke up. I told him that his kid wasn’t being singled out, but if any kids were being out of line, their parents were being contacted. If he witnessed a kid being out of control or mean or bullying then he needed to let us know and which kid so we could take care of it. I said I understand that having a special needs kid wasn’t easy and they required more supervision. He didn’t say much, having inadvertently ranted in front of me. But later he did rant to my husband as well, and was told the exact same thing. We were all (people who lived in the neighborhood) making sure that parents who weren’t watching their kids close enough, and kids who were overstimulated, or brats, or whatever the reason – don’t care why – were properly being monitored by their adult in charge so things didn’t go out of control. It takes a village, right?
Maybe that seems harsh and nazi-ish to some. Anal retentive. I don’t know. I honestly don’t care. We wanted a safe holiday with fun for all. Kids get overstimulated. Kids get out of control. They get too sugared up, whatever. Doesn’t make you a bad parent in the moment. But if you have a special needs kid, you don’t get that kind of freedom where it’s ‘out of character’ for your kid to do these things. I know a LOT of parents with autistic children, developmentally delayed, emotionally troubled children. Violent children. Predatory children. Children who have killed other children and aren’t even out of primary school. This is just our life. We don’t get to do the things that other people do. Denying this – or ignoring it, and then when other people point out that your child is creating problems and thinking the world is picking on you – is not helping your child. You are not setting him up for success by letting him/her try to navigate life on their own like that. We want our kids to win where they can. If they get too overstimulated at a birthday party, they don’t go. Maybe a playdate with the child on another day alone would work, with cake and a present. If your child can’t handle a big event like that with all the action and stimulation, you either don’t go or find a babysitter. It’s just what we do, as parents, to help our children be successful in life. I get angry when I see parents who ignore their child’s issues and just expect them to get over it. I know several parents like that, and I’ve had to back off from being friends, as I watch their children flounder and fail in their environment. It’s not from lack of knowledge or information, but from selfishness? denial? something in the parent that is not willing to do whatever it takes to see their child succeed in life, to the best of their (the child and the parents’) ability.
There’s no shame in being a special needs parent. There’s no shame in being a “helicopter parent” when your child has different needs and needs to be shown how to appropriately interact with other children. You do what you need to do to help your child learn to navigate this crazy world and this society and to be able to interact appropriately in different situations and succeed. That might mean teaching them that if they never get used to large crowds, to simply do social things in small groups, and that THAT IS OK!!! There is nothing wrong with playing up your strengths.
We may not have chosen this life, but our kids sure as hell didn’t either. We do our best to help them, and hope it’s enough. Don’t lose track of the goal – self sufficiency, the ability to interact with others, things like that. We just keep trying.
-hang in there, love, realmom