I love this time of year, especially when the sun shines, the sky is blue and we can all be outside together. The last few weekends have provided us with the most perfect Autumn weather and so we have managed to enjoy some much needed family time. We have been able to get out, explore, gather Autumn fruits and have made some great bonfires; C’s perfect days! During this time I have watched C and seen how his moods have changed. From pretty stressed and close to the edge to relaxed and chilled; well as much as a child who has ASD ever is relaxed. Over the last couple of weeks it has occurred to me quite how much the surrounding environment can affect C’s mood and in turn us as a family. A happy C results in a happy family.
So just how important is space and the great outdoors to a child with autism?
To be honest, I have no idea! But I’d love to find out. Right now however I only have experience with C, but I am fascinated by how much environmental factors can effect him. As with any parent affected by autism, I am always on the look out for ways to improve things not only for C but for all of us.
So why does space have the effect it appears to have?
We are extremely lucky and although we do not live in the countryside, my parents farm. We live less than 5 miles away from them so we do have access to the most amazing outdoor space. This is something I become more and more grateful for, each and every day. I am convinced that C becomes so much more content when there. After having a week at school, caged in, surrounded by noise, people, pressures and other endless stresses that a child with autism has to deal with; being able to escape all this must be such a relief. We all need to chill out and let ourselves recover after a stressful day but living in the stressful world, being crushed by anxiety everyday, all day must be so exhausting. No wonder peace, quiet and space is craved.
C just loves disappearing into the trees and bushes. Exploring what’s around the next corner. Paddling in the scream, even in the freezing cold. Collecting sticks, feathers, stones or whatever is the favorite item of the moment to add to his latest collection. Disappearing into his own little world, talking to himself for hours, just letting the worries that seem to weigh so heavily on his little shoulders drift away.
I am so convinced that peace, quiet and space is that important to him that if we could I would move house tomorrow, so we could live in the middle of nowhere.
But it’s not just the outdoor space that is so important. I think when noise, lights, hustle and general bustle of everyday can effect a person so much, of course they are going to need space and quiet. They need this just to be able to unwind at the end of each day. I can watch C’s behaviour deteriorate over not a massively large time frame when surrounded by lots of people, noise, bright lights etc. Be this when on a visit to family, a day at school, or a family day out.
We can quite often be shut out of the sitting room at home by C when he has reached his overload point. He will lock himself in, turn the lights off and close the curtains. He needs to sit in the dark, he needs time to recover, and during this time he wants to be left alone.
I often wonder if this is one of the biggest failings of schools, and something that actually they could so easily put right. Children just sometimes need quiet and space to recover and recharge. They need to be allowed to go to a quiet corner away from everyone. If more schools could just understand that a few 10 minute time outs, away from the classroom pressures and playtime madness, children would function so much better and their behaviour would improve. Not only would the child be so much happier, the teachers would have an easier classroom and parents might not have a child quite so on the edge at pickup time!!
I realize its really hard to provide children, who have no idea of danger, space and alone time. Its a very risky business. I am always torn when it comes to this, even at home. C will just disappear in a blink of an eye and to make matters worse, you can call him until you are blue in the face, completely freaked out because you think he’s run off (again) only for him to be 2 meters away, and, as usual just not answering. But then does he just disappear because without realizing it, he is looking for space and alone time? Its just finding that balance which is so hard to do. You need to know where they are. You need to be able to see them or at least hear them otherwise you’d become even more crazy with the stress of not knowing, and the very real fact that you might lose them and something bad happens.
In the past we have lost C a number of times at the farm. To be honest so many times, I have lost count. He was only 3 when he first worked out how to unlock the backdoor using an umbrella. I mean really, he was 3 and boy did I freak out! Its an old farmhouse so there is more than one door to the outside. We can hide keys, put the blots on, but when he decides to go, he just does. We have found him on the tractor, in the farm truck, in the stream (with no clothes on), in the barns, at the top of massive wood stacks. You name a place where you don’t want your child, autistic or not, to be found, we have found C there! C from a very young age has just loved to be on his own! At least the advance of living in a new build is we can lock him in at our house, but even then we have lost him a number of times and spent a small fortune on window locks and garden fencing. It never ceases to amaze me how a child who normally makes so much noise can vanish and then doesn’t make a squeak!!
So the answer…. I am not entirely sure but C needs space and somehow as a family we need to find the right balance to provide him with this and in the best, safest possible way.