A freak recent snow storm in Connecticut left tens of thousands without power for over a week. While we had some unexpected great memories from the October storm and power outage- like watching my son, Ben, age 10 with autism, and my daughter, Lila age 4, walk door to door with their cousins on Halloween- it was a tough 9 days.
We were so lucky my sister (for 7 days) and then my parents (for 2 days) had power so we had a warm place to stay with people who love us and understand our kids. Our circle of love.
In our town, the high schools were converted into shelters. Cots were set up in the gym. Could we stay in a shelter?
The main room is a large, echo filled room with cots and lots of people milling about.
Cots creaking, people talking, moving around- sounds coming from all directions. Ben’s anxiety would grow as he wouldn’t be sure where to sit, where to find the quiet he needs to reorganize his sensory system.
At home, he has an indoor swing that helps him relax his very taxed system. He will sometimes turn on water to watch the droplets which soothe and comfort him. He has a quiet zone where he covers himself in couch cushions and a weighted blanket, surrounded by an ocean panorama.
Food would likely be provided buffet style in order to feed such a large crowd.
Ben would have to wait in line for meals, snacks, drinks. Waiting is very difficult for Ben. He also has impulse control issues. I imagine him bolting to the front of the line. Dropping to the floor in a full fledged tantrum when he is asked to return to the line. The looks from those in line who are also hungry, tired, displaced. A tantrum sounds so benign until you hear the full lungs of a 10 year old boy screaming.
And how to pass the time?
Ben is not interested in movies. He prefers to watch videos of Olympic swimmers such as Michael Phelps. Unable to access his favorite videos, he would become distressed. Without the structure of school and the familiarity of home, Ben would get more and more anxious and we would try to keep him occupied- go for walks, drives. Anything crowded would only make matters worse. At home, we take Ben to a pool to get him the sensory input his body craves. He will take a bath in the dark to help soothe his overwhelmed sensory system.
On Thanksgiving and always, I am so grateful to my family and the circle of love that envelopes us. I feel truly blessed and lucky. I worry about the autism families I know that are missing this piece of the puzzle. And of course I worry about the future. When Ben is older and we’re long gone, what will happen to him when the lights go out?