My son loves to go to water parks. It always ends in disaster. I also seem to forget this happens all the time. Today maybe the last time. We planned to go to a water park awhile back. Today was the day. The kids have been waiting for it’s arrival. It began like most days, very uneventful, but full of excitement. They all got up early. Took their bath without prompting. Got dressed, ate breakfast. I should have known that the ease with which the day began was premonition of sorts. We got to the water park. Things started to go out of control the moment they saw all the rides. My son on the spectrum became another being. Gone were his stimming or anything that makes him recognizable as being on the spectrum. There are no signs, no visible scars or disabilities to say out loud, treat him with care at the park. So naturally everything went out the door with him.
He was cutting lines, jumping from one water park slide to another, all with pure excitement that almost all children at the park had. I knew I was in for trouble the moment I said, lunch. Any other day, my son would be ready for lunch. Ready even to tell you what he wanted. I also have code words for leaving parks. For example at the Zoo, we almost always end the day with trains and then ice-cream. It works all the time. Maybe it’s because we go to the Zoo frequently. I had no exit plans for the water park and I knew I was in big trouble. I said let’s get some ice-cream. Nothing. Let’s get Papa John’s pizza. Still nothing. Can we listen to music. Nothing. What about Dad? Should I call him. Nothing. Absolutely nothing I said to him helped to usher our departure. And so what started as a fun, even uneventful day, ended up in massive meltdown.
I was that mom with a child crying inconsolably that everyone started to stare and stare. If I could hide, I would. He screamed, shouted, shaked himself, almost took his clothes off even, all because I said we were leaving the water park. It took us close to 30 minutes to change his clothes and the whole time he was crying nonstop. Everyone was staring at us. Everyone. I tried to calm him down. Asked to take deep breaths, even held him tightly to quell the meltdown. Nothing worked. It didn’t help that it was an extremely hot day and everyone was tired. His cries meant, baby was crying as he wanted my attention. My other neurotypical son who is pretty chill during these occasions started to cry himself asking that I hold him too. We literally cried from the park all the way to the car and all the way back to were we are staying for the weekend. And yes by the time we got home, I was that mother that said emphatically ‘no more water park.’
I have said it before during our last meltdown 2 years ago during another similar incident at a water park. Something about water parks just doesn’t work for my son. I know he loves water and he would love to stay at one all day if he could, but the meltdowns at the end are so severe that it makes me look like a bad mom with everyone just staring with eyes that question why we can’t control him. I wanted to shout that he is autistic. Stop staring and leave us alone. But that would be futile too.
At the end of the day, after still giving him music and ice-cream and pizza post the meltdown, he seems like the angel I know. I almost feel tempted to go back and say, see he is not a terrible kid, just on the spectrum and kindly show empathy to us, to him. It’s the keep for me. Autism is tough, but we are tougher and when you see any child crying uncontrollably, don’t stare. If you can, help to console him. Otherwise, move on with your life. Your staring makes it’s worse as he feeds off your stares and no we are not bad or terrible parents. Just parenting as best as we can even through the meltdowns and your questioning stares. And stop staring. It only makes things worse and doesn’t help. Keep this in mind the next time you see an autistic child crying inconsolably at a water park.