FatherSon Ventures

Building a Relationship through Adventure

McDonald’s (again)

Written By: Scot Butwell - Jan• 20•13

mcd cool (2)I should have known it wasn’t a good day to go to McDonald’s. The lack of an empty seat in the Play Place area. The high-pitched squeals and screams were louder than usual. Both of these should have been warning signs.

I did think about making up a phony excuse to tell D why we had to leave, but when he disappeared into the play structure, I chose to ignore the voice inside me saying, “this is not a good day to come to McDonald’s.”

I knew the shrieks might tip his senses overboard, and I would be culpable for whatever he might do, because I know he has difficulty regulating his body when he is in ex’s loud environments.

And then I heard it. A long wailing cry coming from inside a yellow octagon. I followed the sound of the crying to the octagon, but a mother had beat me there and was holding her daughter.

The blond-hair girl was small and frail. Probably three years old. I asked the mom if she knew what happened, and the few details she gave me confirmed my suspicion that D was the culprit.

“It was a boy.”

“Do you know which one?”

“The one with the hood.”

My son. She said he had been on top of her daughter, and when I found D in a tunnel, he admitted to what the mom said. So we left and I seriously pondered this question, “Should I keep bringing my son to McDonald’s?”

There was an incident at an indoor playground when D pushed a boy into a wall, leaving a huge bump on his forehead and two pissed off parents, when he was on sensory overload.

There have been a few other “close calls.” And many good days too. This means that my discretion is absolutely critical to determine when is a good or bad time to take D to McDonald’s.

Thus, when I saw double the usual number of kids and heard the ear-piercing shrieks, I should have listened to my inner voice saying, “this is not a good day to come to McDonald’s.”

My parent instinct said, leave right now. I knew it was more noise  than his sensory system could handle. And so I was responsible–just as much as D–because I knew the likely outcome.

But I rationalized D needs practice regulating his body in chaotic environments, so he will be equipped to handle a noisy classroom or playground in a school setting.

I eventually concluded that D deserves to keep coming to McDonald’s, just as every other kid does. He is learning to regulate his sensory body, just as all kids are learning different things.

And I am learning too. The importance of understanding my son’s body, and to know when is a good and bad time to come to McDonald’s, and to explain to him why it’s not a good time when it is too loud for his senses to handle.

To the mother of the three-year-old girl in the yellow octagon, I wish I could explain to her how D’s sensory system is different and doesn’t operate the same way as a neuro-typical kid.

But how do you explain this to a parent of a neuro-typical kid, who probably doesn’t understand or can imagine there is such a thing as a child with a neuro-atypical sensory system?

I never heard of the vestibular system (tiny canals in our ears that integrate external information from our senses), until D’s occupational therapist told me about it, and if D’s vestibular system is out of whack, he may not be able feel the weight of his own body.

When his OT shared this, I pictured D’s body being like an untethered balloon, floating at the whim and will f the wind, and so is how–or why–he might end up on top of a girl at McDonald’s when body, already untethered, was on sensory overload.

See what I mean? It seems impossible to explain to an angry parent: how your child may not able to feel or o ttold his body when overstimulated; it’s much easier for a mom to be angry.

So, I guess, it goes back to me learning to recognize D’s sensory limits for his body, and to be ready to pull the plug and explain to D when it’s not a good time to visit McDonald’s Play Place.

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