I grew up going to sporting events.
I was very, very fortunate as a child – between my father’s season tickets to the New Jersey Nets and New York Jets (and what fabulous seats those were), and the ocasional tickets that we were given by neighbors to go see the Yankees, we kids frequently got to go see sporting events. I always assumed, as I was growing up, that I’d be doing the same someday with my kids.
Of course, Autism makes that more difficult. Crowds, noise, excitement, and an unfamiliar place can all factor in to precipitating a meltdown or other problems in public when you’re dragging your kid out to go see a multi-hour sporting event… and that’s not even including the (huge) potential that they’re not going to pay attention after you shell out the cash for a ticket, or that they’re not going to eat whatever you find, et cetera.
The one thing we have going for us, when we go out, is that the Monster isn’t really especially sensory-adverse. While a lot of the things at a ballpark are clearly overwhelming for him on a sensory level, he’s never shown the need for headphones to block out the sound, though he has occasionally covered his ears or the like to dampen it. And when he’s not wearing the headphones, he kind of skates by on a stealth-mode – you’d never know that there’s something different about him, until he opens his mouth, or flaps, or does something that calls attention to the fact that he’s not a “normal” five year old.
But, again, our going to the ballpark usually is rare, perhaps once or twice a season at most.
This season, we decided that we’re going to go through with one of my bucket list items, and try to see all of the Orioles’ affiliates in a single season. That means six trips to the ballpark – Baltimore, Norfolk, Bowie, Frederick, Salisbury and Aberdeen – in the span of a few months. We hit the Orioles themselves in April for Autism Awareness Day, and then things were quiet until this month when we road-tripped to Williamsburg for the Tides game and then to Bowie last weekend. (As a caveat: obviously for Autism Awareness Day, we were among folks who are in the same boat as us. The Bowie game was with my curling club comrades, most of whom already know that the Monster has Autism and had an idea of what they could potentially expect.)
How do we keep him behaving at baseball games? We found something that he will behave for, something that works better than hot dogs or ice cream.
Seriously. I never thought I’d actually write that as an “incentive” for my child, given how frequently you hear about sensory issues with Autism. Fireworks are very loud at a minor league ballpark, bright, multiple colors, coming from multiple directions, and usually occur well after his bedtime. But mention to him that there are going to be fireworks – and remind him every few outs as to how long he has to wait – and he’ll keep the squirming and self-stimming behaviors to a minimum.
And he knows what to expect, once the game’s over. The lights start going down around the ballpark, and he’ll count down (if they do one) with the PA system before the first shell is launched… and then he’s giddy as a schoolgirl, in his seat, just watching every last one launch into the air and explode. During fireworks, he’s quiet, he’s still, usually with his hands clasped in his lap, his eyes tracking each explosion – there’s no jumping, no squirming, no covering his ears… Just fifteen or twenty minutes of a happy five year old acting just like… a happy, NT five year old.
I don’t know that I can always schedule us to go to games that involve fireworks, but… if it eventually lets me do more of what I hoped to be doing with my kids, or helps him get accustomed to going to the ballpark, that’d be a Good Thing.
I could learn to get used to this.