“Oh dear! The signal light is RED!” Simon shouts from his car seat.
“Daddy, daddy, you have to slow DOOWWWWNNN!”
“Oh no, there’s traffic ahead.”
“Look out! A signal light! Stop! You have to stop!”
Driving with Simon is an extreme test of patience, with comments every few intersections about the traffic, the signs, the other cars, the need to speed up, the need to slow down. “Simon,” we tell him, “it’s okay, we’re going the right speed. We see that stop sign. We know how to drive.” He carries on.
“Look out! That car is stopping!” I shout at Bob, then clap my hand over my mouth. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. I don’t mean to do it.” I see where Simon gets it from. My son and I are anxious people, and there is little so terrifying as riding in a car. It’s not Bob’s fault, he doesn’t speed, forget signal lights, or make sudden turns or swerves. It’s just us, our anxiety, and likely, our touchy, often confused nervous systems.
I used to wonder why I reacted so much more than other passengers to sudden dips in the road; why “stomach flipped” when others barely noticed. Now I know it’s probably my hyperactive vestibular sense, an overreaction to the shift in gravity. Toss in a wonky proprioceptive system, the sense that tells you where you are in space and how your body is moving, and the average shifts in speed, lane location, and road grade become a mini-roller coaster, particularly in the back seat, where even neurotypical folks feel a difference.
Simon’s exclamations and overreactions are in part because of my bad example, in part because of the constant accidents in that dratted Thomas the Tank Engine show, and partly because he can’t understand yet that what he senses isn’t a true indication of what’s actually happening. I thought it was mostly me and the show, until I sat next to him on a ride into work this morning.
Simon’s little hands never sat still while we were in the car. He picked at his nose and in his nose. He pushed his blanket through his fingers and between his fingers. He picked at the little bit that’s left of the felt dinosaur on his blanket’s edge. He smelled his blanket. He sucked, chewed, bit, and even licked his pacifier. When I asked him to take it out of his mouth to talk, he held it inches away from his face. He leaned forward, leaned back. Forward and back. This is not the behavior of a child at ease. We’re fortunate to have an extremely verbal SPD kid, and he explains his anxious movement with his frequent, grating complaints about our driving.
If we can convince him to wear headphones in the car, get him a weighted vest or lap blanket, and stock up on fidgets to keep in the car, I hope it can ease some of his tension. Not only for our sake, so that our little back seat driver pipes down, but for his as well. It’s sad thinking about a little four year old, over ten years away from a learner’s permit, being so consumed with fear about riding in a car.