Soft play can be challenging at the best of times. Even with a neurotypical child, the experience of too-bright lighting, too-lax rule implementation and multiple other-people’s-children scenarios can be taxing.
But SP loves them! Despite the sensory overstimulation of Top Tots Pop Party Hits (or whatever the name is given to the album of ultimate saccharine pop earworms) set on a perma-loop and at intolerance level 11, it provides him with the chance to unleash his urge to just crash into stuff. Whilst Amy will skulk around the lower levels scared of certain death, SP will pelt up ladders and down slides (and often down ladders and up slides) without a care in the world. And it makes my heart leap into my throat less than when he plays in the parkour area of our local park. At least soft play doesn’t involve concrete blocks and somersaulting teenagers.
I thought I’d been shrewd though. Utilising the lack of afternoon schooling I figured a Thursday afternoon would be an ideal time to visit. All the kids are pre-school age before 3 o’clock, resulting in SP being able to lay sole claim to the Over 4’s area. It’s the bit with the best stuff too (the ball pit, the giant gym balls, the funny mirror, the football zone and the giant tube slide) – it’s a definite win to have free reign over it all.
And for a while it was.
But then he played with the bead maze table, making the wooden beads follow their path until each row was just as it should be. He then discovered some soft shapes and defied the rules of gravity by getting them to stand upright.
But then another child decided he wanted to move the beads on the bead maze. This was a red rag to SP who launched himself back over to the table.
The other boy, who was bigger than SP and seemed to be non-verbal and excitedly flappy (and thus may have also been in an excluded-from-school-for-being-autistic situation) very definitely also wanted to put the beads in just the right spot…except his version of where the beads had to go was different from SP’s idea of their right place.
And welcome to Wotld War III: kindergarten edition!
SP tried to grab the other child to maul him away from the table. I made a human shield and the other boy giggled aware, unbothered by SP’s protests. SP launched his aural assault – high-pitched screaming. Tears, snot, flailing.
I knew that moving SP away from the table would only make things worse. And he was too focused on the table to be distracted by anything else. I could only restrain him until either he calmed down or until the boy left.
Eventually the boy moved off and SP was free to move the beads back!…But just as he did so, the boy was back again! I might be an overweight older mum, but I’m like a ninja when it comes to intersecting an SP strike!
And so it was: more tears, more snot, more flailing!
On the brink of man-handling a screaming, lashing SP from the premises (but contemplating the issues of mixing a meltdown with a main road and a wait for a bus) the other boy’s mum told him it was time to go home.
Oh blessed relief!
I released my hold on SP and – snap! – he was back to the table as though he hadn’t just resembled Linda Blair in The Exorcist, happily placing the beads back where he should be. And all was fine…for a few minutes. And then, wouldn’t you know it, like a movie cliche, where the hero thinks the battle is over and turns his back, there the Nemesis was again!!!
When you can rationalise with one or both children that’s fine. When you can rationalise with neither that’s tough. As Nemesis’ mum was nowhere to be seen we buried him in the ball pit. I wish! I just went back to being hit in the face by an apoplectic SP. Who may have had a point, but he’d have buried his nemesis for real, so instead I took the blows.
I need to find a way to soothe the rage, because it’s not ok for it to be SP’s default mechanism when things go wrong. But I’m struggling to figure out how to do this. All advice seems to be to avoid situations that might lead to a meltdown. But any situation is open to unpredictability! We can’t just sit in the house. (And there are situations you can’t avoid – not going to school in your pyjamas, for example.) I need to work something out…and the quicker the better. It scares me that SP will grow up with such rage. It scares me that it will lead to school exclusions. It scares me that I’ll always have to step in as a human shield.
As ever SP came away unaffected by the dramatics. Something he does do well is moving on with bearing a grudge or stewing on an incident. I wish I could be the same. Instead I came away tarnished by the afternoon.
If anybody has any good tips or experiences I’d love to hear them. I’m frazzled and feel as though I’m failing SP.
The boy at the bead maze table might have been SP’s, but managing his rage is mine.