The kids and I went to a nearby town’s fall festival and they rode their first Ferris Wheel. I think Annie’s expression says it all; they approved. The view from the top was actually quite beautiful; carnival lights below us, the town full of fall colors, the river, and the woods beyond.
My mom graciously joined us since The Man had to work and taking four small kids, one with sensory issues, into a loud, crowded, and visually stimulating environment is a potentially volatile combination. With her help everyone had fun, nobody got lost, and we got home in time for dinner and bed.
One of the things we’ve learned while parenting children with special needs is to set and reiterate expectations: “We’re going on one ride, getting one treat, looking at the displays, and going home.” We do our simple list and quit while we’re ahead. Our outing doesn’t have to look like another family’s outing and it’s okay to just sample a few things and leave. It’s something I wish I’d heard in our earliest days of parenting, both as special needs parents and parents of young kids: leaving early does not mean the outing was a failure!
If one ride is fun it’s tempting to do a whole slew of them, especially if the kids are begging. However, as the parent, I know my kid simply could not cope with the resulting sensory overload. Mom treated us all to funnel cakes (wow…I don’t think I’ve had one of those sugar-loaded concoctions since she treated me to one at a fair as a child!). Rather than sitting at the closest table surrounded by music, crowds, and flashing carnival lights we walked across the street to a quiet ledge in a parking lot to manage sensory input. Rather than trying to see all the fall displays and booths with the crowds we walked around the perimeter of the event. When one child started crying when she didn’t get her way I was able to recognize she was overwhelmed not defiant and popped her into the stroller to retreat even though she was “too big.” In the past I might have tried to milk an event for all it was worth: We’re here! We need to do everything! Push through, pull it together! We need to walk to all the locations! Collect all the free handouts! Look, they’re giving away pumpkins! We can make a scarecrow! In reality we are all so much happier when we do just enough. It makes it possible for a kid with special needs to still enjoy a big event, and we don’t have to put up with a whole evening’s meltdowns from over-tired children. They came home with happy memories and sparkling eyes chattering about the Ferris Wheel and everything they want to do next year.