Today my boy wanted to go to the park. He had been looking forward to it as it’s not one we go to very often. He absolutely loves the pirate ship that this particular play area has! He was very excited as we set off and counted down the minutes until we arrived.
We parked the car and set off down the path towards the park, my boy happily racing ahead on his scooter. As we approached the play area he suddenly stopped. His expression had changed from one of excitement to one of sadness and disappointment. “It’s too busy for me” he said. A sunny day in half term meant that many children and their parents were out enjoying the fresh air. Something that would not bother most children. But for my boy the crowded play area was just too overwhelming. He turned back and scooted off, not wanting to be near anybody.
After some time and much persuasion we managed to head back towards the park. He approached cautiously whilst telling me over and over again that it was still too busy. We kept going though and made it to a bench just outside of the play area. Here we sat and chatted for a while hoping that it may quieten down a bit if we waited. I was trying to keep upbeat but deep down my heart was breaking. He had so desperately wanted to play on the pirate ship yet now he couldn’t even bring himself to go near it. It made me sad that an activity so simple could cause him such anxiety.
Eventually he decided he could enter the play area, so we ventured through the gate. Once inside he clung to the fence observing the other children playing. We slowly edged our way along the perimeter and reached another bench where my boy sat down to wait. He wanted to play on the pirate ship but was adamant that no other children could be on at the same time as him. At times it became free but just as we would approach it so would another child and my boy would run away.
We waited a long time (in the freezing cold!) but eventually he got a turn on the swing and then finally got to go on the pirate ship. As always I had to go on with him and it quickly became a very involved game that he directed. I didn’t mind, it was just nice to see him looking so happy.
As soon as another child got on he quickly got off, but at least he’d had a few minutes playing on his favourite piece of equipment. Shortly after we headed home and when we got back he told me that he’d had a lot of fun! Amazingly, those few minutes on the pirate ship had made it all worthwhile for him. I was thankful that his memory was of the happiest part of our trip! Back in his comfort zone he put his iPad on and snuggled under his blanket on the sofa.
Reflecting on our outing fills me with mixed emotions. It is so sad to witness the difficulties that he faced just to experience those few minutes of happiness. I am, however, grateful that we went and that he enjoyed it in his own way. At home we tend to overlook his differences and yet when we go out they become all too apparent. Nothing is easy or straightforward for him outside of our home. He has become comfortable in places that are familiar to him – at school and at Grandparent’s houses, but going anywhere out of his comfort zone is always a challenge. I just hope that as he gets older he is able to use strategies to help overcome his anxiety in these situations.