Monday, June 21, 2010

It Was a Really Bad Day at the Park

My daughter went to the park with me, her behaviorist, and her behaviorist's supervisor. It was probably one of the worst park trips ever! There was a big birthday party going on right outside the playground area. The kids there looked to be about my daughter's age. Inside the enclosed playground, there were hardly any kids my daughter's age to play with. Finally, a girl from the party came in the playground to play. She had a beach pail that was decorated with stickers. My daughter noticed that the stickers were the exact same ones she used earlier that day to decorate a visor at school. The behaviorist encouraged my daughter to use that as an ice-breaker with the other girl. So my daughter did. The other girl didn't even respond to my daughter. She gave her a dirty look and kept putting sand into her pail. My daughter tried to engage the girl again a little later, but again, was snubbed. I told my daughter to give up on that potential friendship. Inside, I felt so awful for my daughter. How dare that other girl be, well, such a bitch!

I had my answer a little while later, when an adorable 2.5 year old started playing with the girl's pail. She emptied the sand out and put the pail on her head. She looked so adorable! Unfortunately, the mean girl didn't think so. Even though she had to be about 6 years old, she started tantrumming over this! It then occurred to me that the girl probably wasn't being bitchy or mean. She most likely was on the autism spectrum herself. I don't know why my autism-radar wasn't working. Any parent of an autistic child gets this radar. We're usually extremely sensitive to when other kids are on the spectrum, but I just missed it this time.

After this, I saw a little boy arriving late to the party. He was an old friend of my daughter's from preschool. It's been a few months since they had seen each other, so I thought it would be fun for my daughter to go over and say, "Hi!" This was a big mistake! He did not remember her at all, even though they were friends for over 2 years. Then, she didn't want to leave the party area. I felt really horrible about bringing her over, but I explained that we weren't invited, so we couldn't stay there. I gave her a snack after we returned to the playground area to help make-up the fact that she couldn't eat the yummy food they had at the party.

After she had her snack, the kids at the party started breaking a pinata. My poor daughter was inside the playground watching the kids hitting the pinata. She looked like a homeless person gazing into a window of a fine restaurant, watching the diners enjoy their filet mignon. It was heartbreaking.

I mentioned to the behaviorist that I thought we should leave, that my daughter looked so sad. The behaviorist said that might not be the case, but went over to my daughter to ask her how she felt. My daughter replied that she felt sad and jealous (wow, pretty great realization of emotions). The behaviorist hung with her for a while, then returned to her supervisor and me. We asked what the behaviorist had said to my daughter, and she told us. Then she went on to tell my daughter that what she was feeling was perfectly normal--anyone would feel sad and jealous. "Really?" my daughter responded, clearly surprised. "Yes!" the behaviorist answered. Then she shared a technique with my daughter to help her with her feelings. "Let's make a game up called people-watching!" The behaviorist showed my daughter how to look at the people and make comments about who looked like they were having fun, who looked sad. They tried to guess who would be successful at breaking the pinata open. The behaviorist showed my daughter that she can feel other things on top of the sadness and jealousy, such as feeling curious.

I was blown away by this! It never would have occurred to me to do this. I was feeling sadness and jealously on behalf of my daughter. I couldn't step outside the sadness for her to help her out. I would have just told my daughter that it was an off-day at the park and suggest leaving. But this would not have taught my daughter any coping skills to use in the future. I mentioned to the supervisor that I don't have the "bag of tricks" that the behaviorist has and because of my personal involvement, it makes it harder for me to come up with these ideas.

I don't know what I'm going to do when behavior therapy ends. I'm definitely going to have to learn to come up with these nifty ideas. It's not easy when you're dealing with your own feelings of sadness for your daughter.


  1. You pay such close attention to the behaviorist and your daughter, I'm betting all you're seeing and learning is being tucked away in your brain. It'll be there when you need it. Our memories are funny that way.

  2. You need to change the title of this sounds like a lot was gained from this trip to the park. It's an awesome exercise for her to recognize and cope with those emotions, even though it was obviously painful for you.

    I hear you on the behaviorist thing....they make it look so easy, but then I'm totally stumped when I'm left to my own devices!

  3. That was such an amazing idea. It could work for all kids, I think, because she's right - ANYONE would've felt sad and jealous. A very worthwhile trip to the park!

  4. autism-radar... So true, My husband just tells me I'm a nut...but can't tell you how many times I've been right.
    You are right about being on the inside, its hard to do anything other then want to protect you kid and thier feelings.

  5. Don't sell yourself short! My son was diagnosed with CAPD (Central Auditory Processing Disorder) when he was in 3rd grade. If I hadn't researched, like a dog looking for a bone, I would never have figured out the problem. After diagnosis, there wasn't a lot out there to help me, so I worked hard to come up with things that would work. When you've got skin in the game, so to speak (i.e. someone you love more than life itself), you find you can do more than you ever dreamed! Do not sell yourself short! Moms are warriors inside, too!

    What an amazing post - with such a fantastic ending. I love that though you wanted to wallow in anger (I would have, too) - that you were thrilled to find such a positive solution! Positive attitudes = hope + faith in good things

  6. wow.....I'm blown away by your post. on many levels. your writing wrapped me around (1st) your daughter and (2nd) YOU...

    without sounding critical... where was the host of the party? if it was ME I would hope I would have been engaged enough to see what was unfolding.

    you are AMAZING to be able to step outside your pain and your daughters pain, reassess the situation and use it as a learning experience...AND empower readers, mothers, women...everywhere!


  7. I loved this post - it can be so difficult to step outside of our feelings especially if we are trying to protect our children.

    I think that a horrible day at the park actually turned out to be an excellent learning experience. I am sure that you will be able to come up with plenty of nifty ideas when the time comes :-)

  8. It's always nice to be able to see things from all points of view...because we never know...a great lesson from a loving mentor...and, you'll be the same because the mind will remember...Happy Friday, SITSta! Come visit when you can...