I decided that Haydn and I are going to go to an indoor track meet.
That’s right, I said “indoor track meet” - High “echo-ey” ceilings, fluorescent lighting buzzing overhead, the cacophony of chattering teenage runners, screaming coaches, the glorious organized chaos that IS indoor track. I am going to take my five year old son - perhaps you’ve heard of him – the little guy with Asperger Syndrome and Sensory Processing Disorder (supersonic-sensitive hearing, among other things) into this maelstrom of noise and excitement.
The two of us drive to the field house and park the car. There are school buses everywhere. Big yellow school buses. EVERYWHERE…
“Hey Daddy-o. That’s a great big yellow school bus!”
“I see it Haydn.”
“My school bus is little.”
“I know Haydn, just keep walking please.”
“My school bus is yellow like that great big one!”
“Thank you for sharing that with me buddy.”
“The buddy rides a little yellow bus to Berkeley School.”
“Oh does he?”
“That is a great big yellow bus. Yes it is.”
“So it is.” Seems to have a certain fascination with the obvious
“I like my little bus Daddy-o. Yes I do. I like my little bus. I don’t ride a great big bus.”
“I like your bus too. Time to change the subject. Let’s talk about something else.”
“OK, Daddy-o. Do YOU like those great big yellow buses?”
“Haydn, enough about the buses please.”
“It’s OK, Daddy-o. You don’t have to be mad.”
“I’m not mad. I just don’t want to talk about the buses anymore.”
“Does the track meet room have lights like the Old Gym?” And the lights make their first appearance of the evening…
We walk into the field house, and my very excited, slightly over-stimmed little partner heads right over to the maintenance closet.
“Hey Daddy-o, is that the janitors closet?”
“Looks like it.”
“I can’t go in there. No I can’t.”
“Great. Then why did you run over there.”
“It’s OK, Daddy-o. You don’t have to be mad.”
We walk down the hall and around the corner, and BAM!! Haydn stops dead in his tracks. This is going to be hard room. The field house has a high, arched ceiling, and coaches and athletes scattered all over the infield. They are running the sprints – hurdles on one side of the track and the 55 meter dash on the other. That means a gun is firing about every minute or so, one right after the other. I forgot about the damn guns…
Kids are stretching and jogging, all the while talk, talk, talking. There are cheering parents, screaming coaches, all the ingredients necessary to make for a delightfully overloaded, sensory experience. When Haydn encounters a hard room, as we call it, he likes to slowly work his way in, checking out his surroundings and scanning for “friendlies.” “Friendlies” are fans, lights, bathrooms, a familiar face, anything that he can focus on while he gets himself acclimated to the room. He finds something he likes, we talk about it a little, and move on with our day. This is a coping mechanism that he has developed over time and it is very effective. As long as we are patient, Haydn can handle just about any situation.
“Hey Daddy-o, I think those are fluorescent lights in the chandeliers up there.” Our old friends the lights, always there when we need them
“Why do you say that Haydn?”
“Because they look like fluorescent lights.” Right…
Haydn almost jumps out of his skin, starts talking a little faster.
“Hey Daddy-o, there are two bathrooms over there. The boys room is on the left and the girls room is on the right. I use the bathroom on the left and the girls use the one on the right.”
BANG!!! This gun is going to be a problem
Another big flinch, with a hop, jump, and a little hand flap. Haydn balls his hands up into fists.
“Hey Daddy-o. Do they have bleachers here?”
“They used to.”
“Hey Daddy-o, I didn’t cover my ears! I am very brave today.”
“I am very proud of you Haydn. You know, if you don’t like this place, we can come back next week and try again.”
Flinching, Haydn looks straight ahead and says:
“I think I better go in the track meet room and find Tyler.”
“OK, let’s do it.”
We walk across the track, and Haydn has my arm in a vise grip… head tilted to the right to cover one ear, the left hand cocked and ready to cover the left ear. I scan the infield for Tyler, hoping to get this madness over with quickly…
“I see Tyler.”
Off he goes. Running through the crowd of stretching teens, Haydn barrels towards his cousin.
He jumps in the air, head tilted for ear protection, never breaking stride, until he plows straight into the middle of Tyler’s team. Most of the kids are stretching and warming up, and Haydn settles right in the middle and starts doing his own version of warm-ups. Everything the big kids do, he tries to do. He tries to touch his toes. He sits on the floor and grabs his feet. One girl lifts up her right leg and grabs the foot to stretch out the quads, so Haydn bends over, grabs his right leg…
And does a face plant right into her gym bag.
“Whoa. I wiped out!”
“Are you alright big guy.”
“Yes, I’m OK. I’m not a guy. I’m a boy.”
A little air under those feet, no hands on the ears this time.
I spend a few minutes talking to Tyler while Haydn flirts with the girls.
“Excuse me girl, do you like the Old Gym?” Aspie Suave´…
“Yeah, I guess it’s OK.”
“I love the Old Gym. Yes I do. There are square lights in the old gym. I like the lights in the Old Gym. Yes I do.”
“I can see that. I guess they are pretty nice lights.”
A little less jumpy, no hands on the ears, head straight-ish. The guns are fading into the background. I learn that Tyler’s race is going to be in about three hours, so Haydn and I are going to need to find something to do.
“Hey, Daddy-o. I think I need to go potty.” Well that’s something to do…
“OK, let’s go. Say goodbye to everybody.”
He never knows how to end a conversation. He usually just flies away.
“Goodbye everybody. See you later Tyler. See you later track meet girls.”
Unfortunately, in order to get to the bathroom we have to cross the track near the finish line. Right next to where Mister Starter Gun has been methodically blasting Haydn’s ears and disrupting our evening.
Haydn does not see him, so I try to hurry him toward the track crossing. Every other minute of every other day, Haydn moves at 100 miles per hour, buzzing around and dragging me along for the ride. Now that I need him to pick up the pace, he shuffles along slowly to the scorers table and starts a conversation with one of the meet officials.
“Hey. Excuse me. Do you like your black track meet notebook? I think I like those track meet lights.”
We are too close. The shot seems to rip right through Haydn’s ears. The blue of his eyes flatten out and his hands lock up over his ears. I can see tears gathering at the corners of his eyes, the bottom lip slipping out.
I need to get him to a private place so he can calm down. I want him to be out of sight, so he does not get embarrassed. He has a terrible reaction when a room, or something in the room surprises him. He does not like to fail, and I think he gets embarrassed when he loses control. It’s almost as strong a feeling as the sensory shock that usually causes the problem in the first place. He is a very resilient little guy and just puts his head down and plows into the situation at hand whenever possible, but unfortunately that aggressive attitude sets him up for a big old sensory backhand upside the head from time to time. It does not happen often, but when it does, he often will go fetal on the floor with his hands over his ears. He withdraws into himself, and it is not easy to pull him back out.
I scoop him up and carry him across the track. He is terrified, his head ringing from the gun shot, he has his head buried in my shoulder. I can feel the tears wetting my shirt, and his grip is getting tighter around my neck. I see a staircase by the bathroom. It appears to be a little darker and a little quieter than the rest of the room, so I decide to duck into the shadows and see if we can pull this thing back together.
We sit on the stairs, Haydn on my lap, his head buried in my chest. I notice that he is soaked with sweat. The back of his neck, his lower back, his hair. The track meet has been so intense that it has actually taken a physical toll. He is starting to shake and I can feel the weight of every person, every sound, in the room pouring out with each of his breaths.
“Haydn. Is there anything I can do to make this better.”
He doesn’t say anything, but grabs my hands and places them on his back, one on the lower back, and one on his shoulder blades. He is very deliberate in their placement. I squeeze him a little tighter and I can feel the hitch in his breathing release a little.
“Let’s try to calm ourselves a little. Let’s breathe, and try to turn off the sad switch.”
Haydn visualizes his moods (anger and frustration – the temper switch, sadness – the sad switch, etc.) as switches, and he tries to turn them on and off when he needs to.
“Would you like to try blowing up the balloon Haydn?”
“I think we should blow up the balloon Daddy-o.”
Big breath in, blow it out. Do it again. And again. Blow up the balloon.
He starts to get himself under control. I can feel the tension in his body releasing.
He gets off of my lap looks right at me. Ten minutes and he already has that sparkle back in his eyes.
“I think I need to go potty.” Back to the original task
“OK, let’s do it, kiddo.”
“The kiddo needs the bathroom Daddy-o.”
“Of course he does.”
We walk into the bathroom, make a quick dryer assessment (looks like paper towels), and he ducks into a stall to do his business. I close the door to give him privacy.
“Hey Daddy-o, that boy is making poopy!”
“The boy next to me is making poopy.”
“Haydn, I don’t think he needs you to tell everyone. Move it along, we need to get out of here.”
I peek in the door, and Haydn is doing some sort of bathroom stall yoga, taking a leak all over the side of the toilet while standing on one foot and peeking under the wall of the stall. Good for the core and overall balance…
Fighting the laughter, I try the authoritative Daddy voice with the middle name thrown in for effect:
“Haydn Michael, what are you doing in here?”
“It’s OK, Daddy-o. You don’t have to be mad.”
I decide to cut him some slack. He just worked a real hard room, took a sensory beat-down, and still managed to get himself back on track. Pretty impressive for a five year old. I am very proud of my little guy. Can’t let a little bathroom yoga derail a pretty significant achievement. In fact, I think a stop at Carvel for some ice cream may be in order.
He walks out of the stall and I twist his pants around for him. (he can’t ever seem to get his pants back to the way they were pre-potty) I look up and see kids everywhere. There is a line of kids waiting to get into the stalls. Lines at each urinal, lines at the sinks. The room is reaching maximum capacity. We need to wash our hands and get out of this place.
We wash our hands and as we dry them, I feel so proud of Haydn that I feel compelled to make a speech and tell him. In the most crowded bathroom in New Jersey. Brilliant.
“Haydn I am very proud of you. You did a great job at the track meet today. I know it was hard, but you were very brave and very tough today. You are getting very good at beating these hard rooms.”
Then my amazing little boy, My Aspie Warrior… The light of my life… My inspiration to try to be the best Daddy and best person I can, looks up at me with sparkling blue eyes…
And turns off all the lights in the bathroom.
“It’s OK Daddy-o. You don’t have to be mad.”