Right now, my ears are ringing.
We had the TV on, the contestants won the jackpot on Pointless and that led to a high-pitched, ear-drum bursting scream. The clapping and celebrating were the cause, though so much depends on the day, we had watched Pointless many times previously without incident.
Little moments like this can make you wonder if your child is happy. The autistic child is often anxious, always only a few sensory inputs away from becoming overwhelmed.
A typical day can include several incidents where the child is clearly distressed, and that’s however hard you strive to shelter them and make every environment safe and suitable.
A couple of weeks ago, the swimming pool was that stressful environment. What is usually a setting that can restore calm, an hour spent in a near-empty pool, was for once the catalyst for extreme distress.
The patterns on the walls were too confusing, the changing rooms too bright, the pool floor too textured. These were, of course, the same patters, changing room and pool floor as the previous week.
‘He wasn’t himself’
We went back at the weekend and everything was back to normal, there were no complaints, no stresses, just an hour spent mucking around in the pool – just the two of us and a life guard ambling around the pool.
We had races, we played Daddy surfboard (I swim under water, my son stands on my back), he got thrown a few times.
‘He wasn’t himself the other week, was he?’ the lifeguard said. ‘he’s usually a really happy boy isn’t he.’
Right then I realised she was bang on. He is so often a really happy boy, ecstatically happy. When he loses himself in something, when he isn’t too tired, when he doesn’t go in with anxiety levels already an 8 out of 10, it is hard to imagine any child has been happier.
He can be happy for hours, he would happily spend an age in the pool, floating, swimming, having fun. He can lose himself drawing, making a book, being creative, wandering round an aquarium, out in the garden or just playing a Lego Xbox game.
At any point, the happiness could be shattered, distress triggered by a sound, a sight, a stimulus, but that doesn’t make an autistic child’s happiness any less real.
It just makes it more precarious.