Mia had a bad day yesterday. She had a horrible Thanksgiving. And the worst part is I am to blame. Well, Roger and I are both to blame. (Sorry Roger, but if I’m expected to share the credit when we make a good decision then I am definitely going to make you share the blame when we make a bad one.)
We took Mia to my aunt’s house for Thanksgiving dinner. A place she is unfamiliar with. A place where she has no “safe space.” This was made worse by the large amount of people and the elevated volume. To Mia, an absolute auditory cacophony. In order to understand the problem with this you must first understand Mia’s auditory senses. You must understand, that for her, when there are two conversations going on at once, or say, the radio is on while two people talk, Mia does not know how to tune one out in order to focus on the other. To me, yesterday, in that loud room, all of the many conversations just served to create a muffled murmur in the background. No big deal. I tuned out those I wasn’t a part of, or wasn’t interested in listening to, and I went on with my business. For Mia this is not the case. Her mind tries it’s hardest to process each individual conversation and noise all at once; thus creating an auditory overload. She just can’t handle this. And who could? She is not able to just go on doing whatever it is she would like to do. She gets flustered. She gets frustrated. She runs from room to room trying to find somewhere that she can take a moment to “shake it all off.” Somewhere that she can create some output to compensate for the excessive input. This output she creates comes in the form of stimming – flapping her arms, kicking her legs, rubbing her hands or feet incessantly on textured surfaces and all the while making a loud droning noise.
Her stimming is something most people do not understand. They try to stop this behavior because it is not “normal.” It makes them uncomfortable. It isn’t typical, so therefore it must be wrong. Yet, she is doing it for a particular purpose. She is doing it to ease herself out of an uncomfortable situation. Some parents and caregivers try to redirect their children from stimming, I on the other hand realize it serves a very important purpose. Although, I do not want her to get stuck in this repetitive motion – where she ends up completely disengaged from us by doing it for an extended period of time – I do understand its function and I will allow it for a certain duration. The length of time varies and is dependent on a few factors like her level of anxiety, the situation we are in, where we are, etc.
Mia’s social difficulties can be escalated by the presence of many different factors. For instance, she is currently sick; suffering from a pretty intense cold. She had spent the night out the night before and had only just arrived back home (in her true “safe space”) less than two hours before we left for Thanksgiving dinner; hardly enough time to recoup from being out for so long. She hasn’t been sleeping well lately and is irritable because of this and her illness. Then to top it off some days are just worse than others. Some days her sensory system functions properly (well, as properly as possible) and other days it is in complete chaos. We, Roger and I, live our lives in the midst of a guessing game centered around a fickle sensory system.
You see, the problem is I know all of this. We know all of this. And that is why I say it is my fault she had a bad day. Or, rather, our fault. We let our desire for a turkey dinner and human contact cloud our vision. We put our wants, and our “needs” before Mia’s. Something I am still learning cope with. I think people are genuinely selfish by nature. It is a learned behavior to put other people, and things, above and before your own desires. And because of this I am still learning to walk the fine line between meeting Mia’s needs without completely forsaking my own.