I’ve written before about how overstimulating certain scenarios and situations can be for Sawyer. Sporting events, especially, can be triggering for him because of all the sights, sounds, and smells he experiences when we’re at a game; basketball games are especially hard for him because of the echo in a gymnasium.
This weekend, we went to watch my nephew’s baseball team play (and win!!!) in the Babe Ruth World Series championships. We got to the field about an hour before the first game and Sawyer was quick to tell me he needed his headphones. I ran back to the car and got them, but the day was a struggle for Sawyer; he did great through the first game, but by the time we started the second game he got seriously overstimulated and at one point I thought we might have to leave. For the first game, we had seats in a shaded part of the stadium, but for the championship game, we were in the sun and it was soooo hot. The summer heat, the bright sun, the noise of the stadium, the loud music over the speakers, the smells in the air, the dogs present at the field, and the bugs biting his skin all got to Sawyer. I started to notice signs of an impending meltdown (he was on the verge of tears), and thankfully Emily and I were able to talk him through it. We got him a cup of ice to help him cool down, and for a while, he went to sit in the shade amongst a group of men we didn’t know; after I explained that he has autism and the sun was too much for him, they gladly let him sit with them in their shaded area (I was right down the bench from him).
An older women sitting in the row in front of us heard me asking if Sawyer could sit in the shade with them, and turned me to to explain that she has two autistic grandchildren. We chatted for a few minutes about how people don’t understand how much more an autistic person has to endure just to be present at an event like that; most people don’t that the way a person with autism experiences the world is so different from a neurotypical person. I was just happy that the men sitting in the shade didn’t mind Sawyer joining their group to get some relief from the sun.
As I looked down the bench at Sawyer, sitting in the shade with his noise-cancelling headphones on and clearly uncomfortable, I felt both proud of him and sad for him. This is a child who hates the outdoors because he can’t stand the feeling of bugs on his skin, and he can’t handle the bright sunlight and heat. All that alone can be too much for some people, but add in the noise of hundreds of conversations around him, the loud music playing over the speakers, smells of different foods and people’s body odor, and trying to keep up with all the action going on in the game?? Some people with autism experience hypersensitivity (over stimulated) to sensory stimuli, and some experience hyposensitivity(under stimulated). For Sawyer, he has always experienced hypersensitivity, which means his senses are much more heightened than most. I cannot fathom being in a place like a ballgame and experiencing all those sights, sounds, and smells more than I already do; it would drive me insane! The fact that he endures all this with minimal complaining just because he loves his cousin and wants to watch him play is incredible. It also made me sad because I realized just how miserable it is for him… Look at the expression on his face. My poor, sweet boy, was clearly not having a good time, but he wanted to be there for his cousin. And he was… he paid attention to the game, he cheered for the team, and was overjoyed when they took home the win.
I pray that as Sawyer gets older, events like these only get easier. Those headphones have been a lifesaver for him, and lots of venues now have quiet spaces for those with autism who need a break from the action of sporting events, too, which is amazing. I pray that people continue to extend understanding and accommodations to people like Sawyer.