When Can He Come to his Senses?

The day after Halloween, we had a family birthday.  I asked my son if he wanted to attend this lunch and he was adamant that he wanted to go.  I made sure to explain that it was lunch in a “fancy” restaurant and gave him plenty of opportunities to bow out.  “I really want to go and I promise that I won’t be difficult!”

You can see where this is going, can’t you?!

In order to reach the restaurant, you have to take two elevators. We got on the elevators without hesitation.  Once we reached the 21st floor and the doors opened, my son immediately went into a “fight or flight” type of reaction.  He would not leave the lobby and continually said that he could not go into the restaurant.  It was a bit crowded and the music was louder than I remembered, but I was surprised by his reaction.  I don’t know why I continue to be surprised by events like this, but I am.

I walked up to the host and tried to explain (without sharing too much) that my son needed a table that didn’t have a speaker above it due to the music.  He was very gracious and said that he had a quiet area.  I walked out where my son was waiting and explained that we had a quiet table.  Honestly, I didn’t think that this report would change anything but I was hopeful that if we could get to the table, that lunch could continue.

I must have looked frustrated because the host tried to accommodate even further by suggesting a different way to our table where the route would be calmer too.  I wonder if I found another person that understood that we were dealing with a kid with sensory issues instead of assuming that it was the results of bad parenting or a controlling dictator?  At this point, nothing said calmed my TBP.  He just repeated that he couldn’t stay.  Do you try and force him to stay?  Do you want other patrons to see and hear a tantrum?  We left.

Feeling frustrated, there was little said in the car except for the sound of my TBP crying and apologizing for ruining the birthday lunch.  He was genuinely remorseful and obviously very upset.  He explained that he immediately felt as though he was going to throw up.  He didn’t have the ability to explain himself any better than this and that caused him added frustration.

Everyone was still very hungry so we decided to go to a nearby restaurant that we visit frequently.  By the time we got there, my son was calm and everyone enjoyed lunch.  Do I worry that his emotional outbursts are reinforced when we change plans?  Yes.  However, I struggle to know the “right” answer when we are in a public place.

The next day, we had another “opportunity” to stick to our guns.

We had travelled several hours to spend time with family for an early Thanksgiving.  The afternoon started out with family that my son knows well and was excited to see.  As more branches of the family tree arrived, my son’s stress level increased.  The house was busting at the seams with unfamiliar people, dogs ( in addition to our dogs), an exploring toddler, and visiting that increased in volume due to several conversations going on throughout the space.

My TBP became increasingly clingy and wanted to isolate us from the rest of the guests.  When I left the room for a short time, the traditional game of Yahtzee was starting at the dining room table.  This is where Yahtzee is played and unfortunately, this was where my son felt the most comfortable amongst all the people.  Apparently he was asked to move and make room for the players..he wouldn’t move.  I don’t know how many people asked and in what manner they asked but when I saw him, I knew it had already gone too far.

I asked him to move and suggested a quieter place for him.  It grew quiet around the table and people looked at me like…”What are you going to do now?”  The line had been drawn in the sand and I felt on display as I tried to allow a graceful exit for my inflexible son.

There was no negotiating and finally, he had to be physically removed because he hit someone at the table.  We had to carry him to the back room where he tantrums for what seemed forever.  At this point, I was glad that the noise from the game muffled some of the outburst.  He begged us to leave and was furious that we would not agree to an early departure.  There were a few minutes where I contemplated leaving, but it was already 9:30 at night and we had a 5 hour drive ahead of us.

When the mean words and the continuous kicking became too much to take, we carried him outside to see if the change of scenery would help.  The minute that he was outside, he was able to calm down and listen to our words.  At that point, we explained that they always played Yahtzee at that table on Thanksgiving.  He responded, “You mean that’s their tradition?  Why didn’t you tell me that earlier?”


After 10 minutes outside, he came in and without hesitation walked up to the table and apologized.  He hugged and told the family member that he hit that he loved her and was sorry.  When the apology was over, we set up the air mattress and sleeping bag and he quickly fell asleep listening to an audio story on the Ipad.

After the fact, I learned more about the incidents that lead up to his outburst and believe that a few things could have been done differently.  One thing that I am truly glad about was that we didn’t leave and we were able to continue our visit until our morning departure.

Here’s what I know…My son’s issues with sensory overload are real and impact him.  We are able to “control” enough of our home situation that only in unusual circumstances do we see the same level of outbursts.  We are having a much harder time when other people and public places are involved.   The higher the expectations seems to mean the harder he falls.  Now that the holidays are quickly approaching, I have to admit that I am rethinking some of our traditions. I do know that my TBP will need to acquire the skills to be more comfortable in less predictable situations.  Any suggestions?

9 thoughts on “When Can He Come to his Senses?

  1. Thanks for sharing this. We have been orphaned by family now for years. Dogs, babies, noise, music, games – we gave up on family gatherings years ago after a few really tough experiences, and I admit I now hate the holiday season. We can’t join in. We’ve tried every angle – “forcing” my sensory-dysregulated son into settings that were overwhelming; staying completely away; finding that quieter space in the midst of it; asking family to not let dogs roam or bark freely. There has never been a happy solution. In fact, some family have not spoken to us for years, just over the issue of bringing dogs. Worst of all, no one seems to care. Relations with family have crumbled – especially painful, since our son is an only child. Years of remembrances and fun have gone by without us, and our son has little sense of belonging. Despite many efforts at building his tolerance for noisy unpredictable settings, this hasn’t changed much as he has gotten older.

    It is so challenging to accommodate a person with sensory processing issues. This situation is incomprehensible to those unfamiliar with it. The intolerance is high – people really do believe this is a changeable, controllable behavior issue – I wish, and my son wishes it were too. Though he is now 16, to this day, few people in our families accept or understand him. His own cousins don’t know him and their parents (that would be my siblings and my husband’s siblings) don’t appear concerned in the least. As the holidays approach, once again, we have no idea what we will do or who we can share them with.

    • Judy-
      Your story makes me very sad. I completely understand your circumstances and understand that isolated feeling!

      My son is an only child too and I often worry that his social opportunities are limited. He prefers to be home with us and enjoys our small “village” of close adult friends.

      Some family members understand him a bit
      better than others. Some think that it would make a difference if we forced him, punished him or put our foot down. If ” because I said so” worked, I would be thrilled!! Luckily, my sister also has a twice-exceptional daughter with sensory issues.

      We no longer attend (or are invited) to children’s birthday parties. We have found another child with similar issues and interests (although he is 3years older) and do an occasional Mine Craft play date.

      Sometimes family has to be what we make it. I hope that you have a few close friends or adults that can fill the shoes of family connections. Blessings to you and yours!

  2. I think you’re wonderful and terrific and amazing. We don’t get it right all the time. Hell, we’re parents, not saints! But I take my hat off to you, and remember, when the going gets tough, I still admire you from afar.

  3. Kelly, your son’s ability to express himself and show remorse afterward are very positive. From that, it is easy to see that his actions are not due to bad behavior, but rather, from his extreme sensitivities to his environment. Hopefully, all members of your family can be educated and understand that. And hopefully, you and they can make enough accommodations so that your son will can enjoy these types of occasions. But I know that is not always possible, and you may face some tough choices.

    I was encouraged that you had such an understanding host at the restaurant.

    • Yuji-
      I agree that the self-reflecting and voicing remorse are both encouraging. We are continuing to educate both family and friends. Those in the “inner circle” tend to be more understanding. Those that see him only once a year tend to forget the impact of his sensory issues.

  4. I can only tell of how my son’s ABA did it. What they had done is based, not only on sound reasoning, but on results. It is incremental disinhibition. It is simply going to the initial boundary separating comfort and discomfort…and extending those boundaries through repetition and incremental increases. Both, the body, and the mind, super-compensate to stress…if done repetitiously enough…and in small enough increments.

    My son used to hate going into public places…such as stores. They had taken him on walks with stores near. They repeated these walks daily and they got progressively closer each day while monitoring him for signs of discomfort. When he got uncomfortable…that was the comfort threshold. They steadily got closer and closer. They finally went in and increased the time spent inside. My son now feels comfortable going to new places. He actually loves it. He wants us to new places all the time now.

    • Shiroi-That is very interesting! How old was your son when he participated? How long did you do it? How did you find a therapist? I will research this information
      Thank you!

  5. My son was diagnosed at 2.5 yrs. He began in home ABA therapy 35 – 40 hrs. a week. He continued ABA full time for a couple of years…and then a couple of years of at school shadowing. He had progressed so well that he no longer needed any therapy. As part of the diagnosis from the state of CA…the therapy was included. The therapy had made all the difference in the world. He used to have many compulsions and a lot of inflexibility. Now…most people simply cannot tell he was ever diagnosed as ASD.

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