Today, Austin attended a birthday party for one of his friends. It was a laser tag birthday party, which he has never been to before. This is a friend he has known his entire life... we met the friend's big brother when he and Austin were a year old. We have been to MANY, MANY of their birthday parties. Unfortunately, Austin has had a meltdown at just about all of their parties. For some reason, they keep on inviting him. It's such a blessing to have kind, understanding, and non-judgmental friends!
This morning, Russ and I spoke to Austin at length about attitudes at birthday parties, making sure that we are thinking of the birthday person and how to make the day as special as possible for him. We also discussed in a very declarative manner how things can be frustrating and overwhelming, but how we can usually work through them without causing a scene. We also talked about subtle exit strategies. There is nothing new with this discussion. We have it before every party or event.
Things didn't start out well... Atlanta traffic made us 15 minutes late, despite having left 30 minutes before the time we were supposed to arrive, and our destination was a mere 13 miles away (Yeah, 45 minutes to go 13 miles. Don't you wish you lived in metro Atlanta??). Austin cannot STAND being late. It is one thing that will drive him to a meltdown faster than anything. Today, I tried something a bit new, something that I read in a CM article about tantrums (will try to get the link). As soon as I recognized that we were going to be late, and that he was recognizing that we were going to be late... I distracted him. I talked a little bit about being late and how it frustrates me. I then turned it to other things that frustrate me, and how I work through things that frustrate me. Austin told me something he likes to say to himself when he gets frustrated, and so I took that as a chance to talk to him about how 'positive self talk' really has helped me recently. We arrived 15 minutes late, without a meltdown.
We got into the laser tag place, and this was Sensory Overload USA. It was LOUD. There were kids everywhere. It was fast-paced, lots of verbal instructions that were difficult to hear over the LOUD music. Lots of people Austin didn't know --- in fact, he only knew the birthday boy and his big brother. I silently said a quick prayer, and he went in for the first 'mission'. I trust the birthday boy's dad completely with Austin. He has always been understanding and kind to Austin, and genuinely interested in the best ways to help Austin through difficult times. I sat in the waiting area, wishing I had earplugs. LOL
The first game ended, and Austin landed in 31st place. Not a stellar performance, but not bad for a first-timer! It was time for the 2nd game, and the kids all went in, and came right back out. There was a computer problem and all of the kids had to re-register at the main desk. I could see Austin was terribly confused, and there were 4-5 different people telling him what to do. He was getting flustered (I know the signs lol). I just sat back and watched, not wanting to jump in prematurely. He is very sensitive lately to being treated like a 'kid'. He was telling the two brothers something I couldn't understand, when the bigger brother who is Austin's age, took Austin by the hand and said, "Just get in line." Austin did, sort of looked around a bit, caught my eye, and shrugged with a sort of grin on his face. I chuckled, and shrugged back at him with a grin on my face. Everything was fine. The 2nd game ended and this time Austin was 9th. He was pleased with his improvement.
It was time to open the presents and have cake and snacks. Austin did very well, though I could tell he was beyond overwhelmed at this point. We made a quick exit when the gift-opening was over, which we had to do anyway because tonight was respite. We spent the ride home (only 30 minutes this time lol) encoding this great experience and spotlighting Austin's accomplishments in such a wild situation. It was fantastic!
So today, we have two reasons to celebrate: a good friend is TEN years old; and Austin got through his party without having a meltdown! :)