Brendan, who is always a bit hyper, goes absolutely into over-drive when we go to Walmart.
I used to believe it was because he got bored with the hassle and routine of getting the groceries. I don’t like grocery shopping, myself, why would I expect an active little boy to enjoy it? My “solution” back in those days was to promise him that if he would behave until every item on the list was marked off we would go to the toy section and he’d be allowed to pick a new toy as a reward. This had always worked perfectly with Austin so it seemed logical to do the same with Brendan. There were three problems with my “solution”. First, Brendan isn’t Austin. Second, Brendan is very rarely interested in toys. Third, Brendan wasn’t bored.
I have learned Brendan was on sensory overload.
My current “solution” is that my husband and I go to get groceries on Sunday afternoons between morning and evening church services leaving Brendan at home under the watchful eye of his big brother. It is the easiest solution on all parties involved. Jeff and I can finish our shopping with minimal distractions, arguments, and stress. Brendan can happily play his games or watch his movies. Austin just has to make sure he is breathing and remains uninjured for the hour or so we are gone. Brendan is a breeze to baby sit. Pop in a dvd or video game and he is entertained for hours.
Today, Austin didn’t come home between church services. We had no choice but to take Brendan to the store with us. Looking back on it now, the best thing to do would have been for one of us to go to get groceries and one of us to stay home with Brendan. I have added “re-think grocery day procedures” to my to-do list. Then again, perhaps helping Brendan learn to “deal” with the overload of grocery day is more important than our not having to “deal” with him. I’ll ask Dr. H. about this.
Our trip went as we all (well at least Jeff and I) thought it would. Brendan was fine for about ten minutes. Then he began wandering, making sound effects, touching everything, talking to everyone he passed, trying to touch or hug them, asking if we were almost done, complaining his feet hurt, asking what that noise was, who is coughing, who said that, why is that baby crying, and whining to use the bathroom.
Jeff and I spent a lot of time telling him to be quiet, stop wandering so far from the buggy, nagging at him to stop touching things and bothering people, and begging him to just please cooperate so we could get done!
By the time we left the store, I was stressed, Jeff was stressed, and Brendan was upset. It was our “typical” shopping trip.
At one point I said to Jeff, “He really can’t help it.” to which Jeff replied, “Yes he can.” Which made me wonder…. can he? I really felt like there had to be some reason why Walmart and Brendan just cannot get along. I couldn’t argue the point with Jeff…. because I didn’t know what that reason might be.
So my mission was more research. I found what I was looking for! He really can’t help it.
In order to understand why Brendan “freaks out” and begins acting out in Walmart you have to be able to see things from his point of view. I am learning that this is key to working with a child who has an ASD. (Autism Spectrum Disorder).
When I am in the grocery store my mind is involved with what’s on the list, being careful not to run into anyone with the buggy, price checking, what to do when they don’t have what I need, and getting done as quickly as I can.
Taking in Walmart from Brendan’s point of view was an eye-opening experience (no pun intended).
Brendan is visually oriented, so his sense of sight is probably the first to become overstimulated. His eyes are much more sensitive than most people’s. To Brendan the fluorescent lights are much too bright. (Think flood-lights.) All this lighting pulsates and it hurts his eyes.
These throbbing lights bounce off everything from floors, shelves, and the products on them to the shopping carts, display cases, and especially those glass doors in the freezer/dairy sections. This distorts what he’s seeing making it seem as if the space around him is constantly changing.
There are funny pipes, shiny globes housing cameras, fire sprinklers, and emergency lights on the ceiling – objects that distract him as he ponders what they are, what they do, and if they are dangerous.
It’s crowded and there are so many people in constant motion. All this affects his vestibular sense (the vestibular sensory system, controls the body’s sense of balance and equilibrium) and proprioceptive sense (the sense of the relative position of neighbouring parts of the body and objects in one’s vicinity) until he can’t even tell where his body is in all this distorted, changing, brightly pulsating space.
This explains why he’s in constant movement as he tries to adjust. For Brendan, walking down the aisle in Walmart is like trying to walk through one of those spinning tunnel-tubes in a fun house while strobe lights are flashing.
What Brendan hears-
Brendan’s hearing is hyper-acute.
Dozens of people are talking at once. The intercom system is booming with “Joe, You have a call on line one.” There is music blaring from the sound system speakers. The cash registers beep loudly and cash drawers slam shut. Someone drops their pocket change and it scatters on the floor in a loud rain of clinking, clacking, and ricocheting.
The lady four aisles over is having a coughing fit, some men have gathered in electronics and are talking too loudly, there are two babies wailing on different ends of the store, four teenage girls are giggling in the clothing department, a young boy is yelling for his mother on the cookie aisle.
An elderly lady is riding a funny looking motorized thing that makes whirling, beeping, and clunking noises as she drives past.
The shopping cart wheels screech and squeak. Someone passes by and their cart is making a thump-bump noise. Another cart has two children riding in it, they are fighting and one is crying.
In the stock room there is a chaotic crescendo of thumping, banging, and machinery running. The sound of the trucks being unloaded is echoing through the bays, and people are yelling to each other.
The fluorescent lighting makes an angry humming noise. Freezer doors squeal as they are opened and thump as they are closed. In electronics there are a bunch of television sets on and all are making a high pitched buzzing static noise.
And it’s all being heard at the same time! His brain can’t filter all the sounds.
Maybe this is why he makes his special-effect noises from the time we walk in the door until we exit to the parking lot. If he cannot process all the sounds he’ll just attempt to drown them out with his own.
What Brendan smells-
Brendan’s sense of smell is highly sensitive.
The lady stocking shelves is wearing a very floral perfume that makes his nose burn and his eyes water. The man looking at the televisions reeks of cigarette smoke. The guy standing next to us in the pharmacy section hasn’t showered today, making Brendan wrinkle his nose and say a bit too loudly, “Eww, what is that stench?” (Aspie kids speak their mind- always!)
The fish, chicken, hamburger meat, and pork have a raw distasteful smell even through the packaging.
There is a bad potato in one of the produce bins, the lady near the deli is handing out sausage samples, the baby in line ahead of us has a dirty diaper, an employee is mopping up a mess on the floor with bleach.
All the smells are smothering him and he can’t sort them all out. It’s making him nauseated.
This would explain why he always complains of a stomach ache, needing to sit down and rest, and needing to use the bathroom when we are almost done with our shopping.
Now, consider that all these things that he is seeing, hearing, and smelling are happening at once.
No wonder he hates to go to the store and acts out the way he does when he is there!
I have my answer. Can he help it? No.