The sign says, “Please don’t allow your children to scream.”
In spite of the polite please, I know that sign will anger many parents and may even lead them to boycott a pizzeria with a renown delicious New York caliber crust and potentially an even more delectable Cesar salad.
I admit it. I have called restaurants and asked for exceptions to be made for children with atypical sensory processing who also have a history of yelling, tantrums and meltdowns in public as well as peculiar taste in clothing or preferences for zero clothing all together. That’s right, I made excuses for “bad” behavior and I did so because I am committed to my clients, but I was not 100% at peace with my actions.
The thing is, he wore socks during therapy without a problem. I know this because I saw his minion socks and laughed right before I helped him put on his shoes. I know he can wear them at the party.
The thing is, I also know that sensory processing varies day-to-day, hour-by-hour and in some cases it would appear minute by minute. So while my client may be comfortable with me in the OT clinic, add 32 kids, music and a party with numerous more strangers in a bright restaurant, and you may trigger so much stress in that it ignites the involuntary flight or flight mechanism leading your child to scream, bite or run out of the restaurant like it was on fire.
What are we to do?
Can you go out to grab a coffee and have your child wait in line with you for ten minutes?
Can your child attend parties with other children and actually enjoy the experience?
Does your child stop you from singing Happy Birthday at family events?
Have you gone to dinner and dreaded every minute or worried more about what the people at the next table thought than how your spouse’s day went at work?
Can you read your child’s signs and behavior that indicates they are experiencing sensory overload and about to have a meltdown?
While it would be wonderful to have the world adapt to kids and for everyone to be able to read the sensory cues of each and every unique child with sensory processing struggles, as a therapist I cannot wager a client’s success on the actions of others, especially strangers. My goal is to empower the child or as one e-card put it so well:
“Therapy isn’t meant to make it so your child is no longer autistic. It’s to help your child succeed with autism, not despite it.” – Stuart Duncan
I will tell you that absolutely there will be a time when your toddler will scream, cry and perhaps even crawl under the table to bite you on the leg (this may or may not have happened to a mother who is also a registered occupational therapist I know dearly at Chin Chin in Beverly Hills.)
It is within the realm of normal and if you don’t like that word then fine, typical behavior in young children who are learning to interact with the world, control themselves and make sense of their feelings.
But I will also tell you that innovative therapy and intervention can help your child feel more comfortable and function appropriately in public. I will assure you that your child can blossom from someone who does not want to leave the house to someone who can travel and experience new environments. I will guarantee you that if your child refuses to chew, resists having their teeth brushed or cannot seem to tolerate a splash of water on their face that someday you can enjoy a trip to Legoland AND the adjoining water park followed by a dinner together capped off by a regime of self-care before bed at the hotel.
Innovative therapists might even give you tips on how to handle the situation should your child catapult a piece of bread onto the plate of diners at a nearby table at Roy’s on the Big Island.
So please, allow your children to scream in public so they learn how to interact with their world and you as a parent learn how to help them feel more comfortable and develop better social skills. And please, if someone’s child is screaming, focus on your pizza and model self-regulation for the struggling child and show him or her how to be calm when the sensory stimulation in your environment is overwhelming and adversive .
It’s the same thing you know.
– K.Lucas MA, OTR/L