Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Field Trips Suck... the Life Out of Me

Princess's stress face :(

Me:  Shhh!  *whispering fiercely*  What is the matter, Princess?!  Why are you yelling?!

P:  *sounds of something plastic having the life beat out of it*  My alarm clock. ISN'T! WORRR-KINNNNG!!!  IT STILL HASN'T RUNG! *hysterical sobbing*

Me:  Honey, it's only 5:00 a.m.  It's not supposed to ring for another hour.  Nothing is broken.

P:  Oh...  Are you sure?!  If we are late to school, they will leave me behind AND I WON'T GET TO GO ON THE FIELD TRIP!! *sobbing again*

Of course.  The "Field Trip Freak Out" is happening.  Again.  I was hoping we were going to avoid the field trip anxiety this year.

Me:  Shhhh!  You will get there on time-- I promise.  Please try to go back to sleep.

Field trips are a living nightmare for lots of spectrum-y kids, my Princess included.  Where most kids are bursting at the seams with excitement about what adventures a field trip day may have in store, the spectrum-y kid is tallying up all the ways that the day could go horribly wrong.  A field trip is a day chock-full of the unknown, and for kids with autism, that's worse than punishment.  On field trip day, the regular school activities, the surroundings, the seating arrangement, the bus ride, the lunch schedule, the grown-up in charge, the bag in which lunch is carried-- all these things are mostly likely different.  Ummmm-- can you say "not good"?!    For a kid that poops at the same time and place every day, a kid who can't find her milk glass at the dinner table if you set it in a different spot by her plate, a kid who gets angry if she outgrows clothes without being warned that the outgrowing might happen soon-- for that kid, this many changes in one day is enough to induce a full-blown panic attack!

We do what we can to prepare our ladies for the "possibilities" of a field trip-- informing them of all the things they might want to be aware of that could trigger a meltdown, but you can never cover all the bases.  Not to mention, sometimes too much preparation actually makes their anxiety worse.  We tow that invisible line between too little and too much preparation every day here at the Crazy Train.  Once again, I'm not sure we were towing the right side of the invisible line when getting ready for this field trip.

Tell me what you think.

The hour and a half before school on field trip day seemed like it would never end, and many times it felt as if Princess was trying to sabotage my efforts to get her to school on time.  The morning started off (for the second time, if you count the alarm clock incident) with a bang.  Princess had laid out her clothes the night before, as usual, in preparation for the big day.  She chose, as all good fashionistas would, her leopard-print track suit to wear to the zoo.  I mean, who wouldn't, right?!  When in Rome... What she didn't take into account was that she hadn't worn the thing in six months.

P:  AAAAHHHHHH!!!!!  Maaaahhhhhmmmm!  *growling and snarling*  IT.  DOESN'T.  FIT!  WHY DIDN'T YOU TELL ME IT WOULDN'T FIT!  AAAAAHHHHH!!!!!

Me:  Honey, you've grown four inches and 10 pounds since last spring.  You knew there was a chance it wouldn't fit.

P:  *shrieking, fists balled tightly*  YOU SHOULD HAVE TOLD ME!!!  IT IS YOUR JOB TO TELL ME!

After I convinced Princess to wear something else, we went through eight-- count them 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8!-- pairs of socks, trying to find a pair in which the seams didn't hurt her toes.  We She then screamed at each other for a full ten minutes while I tried to comb her hair.  That trauma was then followed by the great cereal debate, where she spent the better part of five minutes trying to decide between raisin bran and shredded wheat.  She ultimately settled on a bagel.

Things were starting to look calmer on the homefront once the eating began.  Unfortunately, Birdie began to very excitedly discuss the animals she hoped to see at the zoo.  I saw that panicked look cross Princess's face at the mention of the word "zoo" and I, quite frankly, started to look for an excuse to leave the room.  Alas, I wasn't quick enough...

P:  Mom, what if I get lost at the zoo?!  It's a big place.  It has strangers. 

Me:  You won't get lost.  You plan on staying with your chaperone or teacher, right?!  Just keep up with your group.  And relax, why don't ya?!

P:  My group?!  What if I don't like my group?!  Then I won't want to keep up with them, and I'll. Get. LOST!

Me:  You won't get lost, even if you hate your group-- which you won't, because your boyfriend is in it.

P:  And what if I'm not with a grown-up I know?!  Parent chaperones don't like me.  It's true!  You can tell by the way they look at me when I scream.

Me:  *trying not to giggle*  Pretty sure you'll be with your teacher...

P:  Mom, what if the bus ride takes for-everrrrrrr?!  I hate the bus, and we are driving into DC, ya know.  (She said DC like you would say "chasms of Hell" or "the ghetto" or "a Wal-Mart parking lot.")  And what if we don't get back to school before the dismissal bell?!  *shear panic in her voice now* 

Me:  You'll get back in time, and safely, too.

P:  And what if there are no bathrooms at the zoo?!  What if there are no water fountains?  We aren't allowed to take water bottles, so water fountains are important!  

At this point I was starting to wonder if she was just shining me on, but her face was telling me that she was really, seriously stressed.

Me:  You've been to the zoo, before-- they have fountains and bathrooms.  Seriously, kid-- chill!

P:  *absolutely distraught*  The animals might get out while we're there.  What if the orangutans poop on my lunch?!  What will I eat?!  What if...

Really?!  Her only concern if the animals get loose and run amok is that the orangutans may crap on her sandwich?!  Oh dear lord-- she has truly lost it!

Me:  Princess, I'm going to say this as sweetly as I possibly can:  Shut. Up. ... Please.  We are going to be late for school if your interrogation doesn't end now.  (Not my finest parenting moment, by a long shot.)

At school, in parking lot, Princess's anxiety continued.

P:  Oooohhhh, I don't think I want to go to the zoo...  I feel a little sick, Mom.  Can't I just stay here today?!

I explained to her that the hardest part was over, since we made it to school on time.  She responded with a growl and some more resistance, but she did get out of the car.  Tear-free, even!  Whew!

*borrowed image*
Once we were in the school lobby-- a whopping 50 yards from the school parking lot-- Princess was a whole different kid.  She even gave me a hug, and a quick "Bye, mom!  Love you!" before she headed to her classroom.  I watched the tension begin to seep out of her in the familiar surroundings of the school building.  Later, when I let Princess know that she would be chaperoned by her own classroom teacher, the remaining tension in her face disappeared.

After all that worry and stress, Princess's field trip went off without a hitch (with the exception of a little mild motion sickness on the ride back to school).    For Princess, the majority of her anxiety was apparently rooted in her fear of being late for the bus.  Who knew?!  I'm sure it also helped that the orangutans remembered their manners and pooped somewhere other than on Princess's sandwich!

Any parents of the differently-abled out there with field trip anxiety-reducing tips?  Survival stories?  My other Trainees and I would love your input!


  1. When I comment on blogs it usually starts with my son is 15 now but I remember ..... So my son is 15 now and field trips are still what gives him the most anxiety. I thought we had gotten past it in his last year in primary school (he was 12) when he went from hiding under a table and my husband having to accompany him on a trip to the National Art Gallery in September, to going on an overnight trip in May with neither of his parents with him. But no. He still gets anxious. He has told us he worries about getting back to the school in time, what if his taxi is gone. It doesn't matter how many times we tell him he doesn't have to worry about this, we will always make sure he is picked up and gets home. It's worth noting that he has never missed a bus or a taxi home. On the plus side he usually enjoys the field trips and we point out that he had a good time and there was nothing to worry about. Maybe some day his anxiety will decrease but not so far.

    1. At least you are seeing some improvement! :) And it's also good to know that he has fun. Princess does, too, assuming I can get her there! Oh the things we "survive" as parents...

  2. Lol!! That exchange of words at the breakfast table was pretty hilarious! You have to give credit to her imagination!! I would never have thought of the orangutans and not the zebras!! :D Glad it went off without a hitch!

    1. I always want to know where these crazy ideas of hers come from! Obviously not from a happy place... LOL

  3. I really love this post. Through it all, I really feel the love that you have for your daughter.

  4. i love all your answers to her questions. :)
    im so glad she had a great day and all went smooth (well, ya know except for that last part)
    it happens :(

  5. I'm so glad that this was the first post of yours that I got to read. I'm hooked. My son is turning seven tomorrow and has had 'spectrum-y' signs since 18 months but always tests out. He has many similar traits to Princess and a pretty severe speech delay we are just now getting to the root of. I love the positivity you write with and the love you obviously have for your girls. No field trips stories to share but I'm definitely a new fan =)