Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, “I will try again tomorrow.” ~ Mary Anne Radmacher
After our terrible, horrible no good, very bad morning you might think that Niksdad and I decided to lay low and stay close to home this afternoon. You’d be mistaken. After a hearty lunch and some down time for Nik —and a healthy dollop of analysis and brainstorming by Niksdad and me— we decided to try our luck a second time. After all, the festival is only one day a year and the orchard offers free peach ice cream cones—made from their own peaches— which is heavenly! Even Nik adores it.
I am happy to report that the outing was a rousing success! Nik managed to consume an entire cone by himself —along with a goodly portion of mine! We even managed to get in some play time at a nearby park which we’ve recently discovered. Nik was so happy all afternoon; he sang and clapped and raced around the park without a care —exactly as we had hoped it would be. He even picked up a sweet little guardian angel!
I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that our afternoon was the antithesis to our morning.
So what was different the second time around? Nothing, really. And everything. I know, I know —that doesn’t make sense. But, really, the things we did were so incredibly simple that I wasn’t even sure it would work. We met Nik where he was. To do that, we had to observe his behavior and listen to his cues.
Let me give you a little background which might help this make sense:
Nik is nonverbal but extremely intelligent. He understands just about everything that is said to him, about him, around him. He takes everything in. He also has a very strict interpretation or understanding of certain constants. One of those constants is that food is eaten while sitting in his booster chair at the table unless it is otherwise specified. e.g., “We’re going to Nanny and Granddaddy’s for dinner.” or “We’re going to a restaurant for lunch.” (Snacks are a different category; he’s ok with eating them in the car, at the park, play group, etc.)
Nik is also usually very good about adapting as long as he understands the sequence in which he can expect things to occur. Nik knows ice cream is food. He doesn’t know that “going to get ice cream” means going somewhere —let alone somewhere new —in the car. So, to Nik, “ice cream first, then park” would mean “We’re going to sit at the table and eat ice cream and then go to the park.”
Nik is also amazingly observant of his physical surroundings. He can tell where we’re going based on the turns I take or the scenery along the route. If I tell him that we’re going somewhere different —and I may have to repeat it many times to reinforce the message as I drive— Nik is, generally, ok with it. Today’s destination —the orchard for the ice cream and petting zoo —took us right past the turn for the park.
Can you see where this is going?
Right. So here’s our happy-go-lucky boy —already wound tighter than a top from the shoe incident— thinking he’s going to sit and eat ice cream and then go to the park. By the time we got to the orchard, not only had we not eaten ice cream but we’d driven past the park! Poor Nik was experiencing such tremendous cognitive dissonance that he simply could not function. I’m not using hyperbole for effect, either. By the time we returned home this morning, though he was happy and clapping when we pulled in the driveway, Nik was completely motionless and silent when we opened the car door. It was as if he simply checked out for a moment to re-calibrate.
This afternoon, armed with those realizations, and the knowledge that Nik doesn’t know what the new place —the orchard— is, we realized that we had to give him only one part of the sequence at a time. Otherwise, we risked the likelihood that Nik would fixate on “going to the park” and block out the rest because he couldn’t visualize it. We also decided to try something that I’ve been meaning to try for a while —a rudimentary picture schedule to help Nik know where we are going in the car and why we are not going the way he expects us to go. (Side note: Nik doesn’t seem to have this trouble with changing activities at home or at therapy; it’s only when we are driving places that he gets so rigidly attached to his expectations.)
I printed out two pictures to take with us. We gave Nik the first one —a full size picture of an ice cream cone— before we got in the car and explained to him that we were going to “a farm” to get ice cream. Oddly enough, though I don’t think we’ve ever taken him to a farm, Nik seemed to understand that concept. Maybe it was simply because I named something that he understands as an actual place or, at the very least, a place that is not home? I really don’t know.
As we drove along the exact same route we took this morning, I sang silly songs about eating ice cream and going to the farm for yummy ice cream. Nik even got into the spirit when I asked him to show me how he eats an ice cream cone by, well, eating the ice cream cone picture!
Nik never once whined nor got upset the entire drive. As soon as we arrived, he let Niksdad put him up on his shoulders and we made a beeline for the ice cream. Nik’s reaction was all the proof we needed that we had done the right thing:
After Nik downed an entire cone —and attempted to eat a few twigs, too —we asked if he wanted to go to the park. He wasn’t quite clear about that so I asked if he was ready to go in the car. That got a clear affirmative so we went and sat in the car. Once we were in the car, Niksdad gave him the second picture —a picture of a playground similar to that at the park —and asked if he wanted to go there. The light bulb went on and our little dude was on board.
The rest, as they say, is history.