Taking the Heat

When M was in the first grade, I was still working at his before & after school daycare program. During the summer months, we were open all day every day and the activities my coworkers and I planned for the children usually took place outside. We would play zombies on the playground, shark attack at the splash pad, and have egg-throwing competitions across the grass.

One day in August, it was hot. It was almost forty degrees Celsius, which meant that if it were any hotter, we would have had to take the children inside. The kids were digging, running, climbing, and lounging in the sun, beads of sweat sitting atop the pores of their little noses. But M wasn’t playing with his friends. He was sitting alone on a rock in the corner of the playground. I wandered over to where he sat, tracing his finger along the grooves in the boulder.

“What’s up, dude?” I asked, placing my hand on his back.

“I so hot, Becca. Can I go inside?”

I told him no; he was fine. It was hot, but it wasn’t intolerable. And in Winnipeg, hot days are short-lived and to be savoured.

Ten minutes later, when M still hadn’t moved from where he was sprawled out over the boulder like a frying egg, I returned to his side.

“Buddy what are you doing over here?” I asked.

He didn’t reply.

I stepped around to face him and crouched to look him in the eye. He lifted his brown eyes to meet mine. Panic flashed through them for a second as he looked at me. Then, he vomited all over my shoulder, projectile style.

“Oh, no he’ll be fine. He just really isn’t good with heat,” M’s mom told me over the phone, as I dabbed at my puke-covered shirtsleeve with a crumpled Kleenex. I had moved M inside and allowed him to watch a movie about talking cars. “He should be fine to stay for the day,” she assured me.

Not good with heat? My t-shirt and I wished she had told us sooner.

Like I mentioned in my last post, a common symptom of Autism is sensory over-sensitivity. The heat in which the other children were running, jumping and wrestling was too much for M to handle. It brought him to the point of nausea.

Health Central provides helpful information about heat intolerance and Autism Spectrum Disorder here.

I never again doubted M when he said he was too hot—until this weekend.

My parents recently installed a hot tub in our backyard. When M came to my house on Saturday, he was curious to try the new “pool” in my yard. If M had known that the water was hot, he would have changed his mind, but I wanted him to at least try it. So, I grabbed a pair of my old running shorts for him to wear, and neglected to tell him that it wasn’t exactly a regular pool.

“It’s too hot,” said M immediately, seeing the steam rising from the water.

“It’s not,” I said. I got in and dunked my head under, showing him how easy it was.

“How about we try cold, Becca,” M said, tapping at the settings buttons on the side of the tub.

“No buddy, it’s just perfect,” I argued. “Come in. Just start with your feet.”

M let his feet dangle in the water for a few seconds before he screamed and backed out of the water.

I thought about the day at daycare when he became sick. I considered letting him go back inside to watch T.V., back into his comfort zone with a bowl of popcorn and a can of Pepsi. But I decided that it might be okay, two years later, to challenge him to try something new. I called him back to the tub and he tried again to submerge his legs.

Before he pulled away a second time, I grabbed him, tickling his sides. Paying attention to my feet, I held him above the water. Despite how tall he is for an eight-year-old (very), I was able to hold him there for a few seconds while he laughed. Then, I lowered him into the water.

After a sharp intake of air at the initial shock of the heat, M looked at me and laughed.

“I. Love. This.” he breathed.

Playing with water
Playing with water.

He reclined in front of the jets and let out a dramatic, relaxed sigh. Thirty minutes later, he still didn’t want to get out.

While it is important to be sensitive to M’s sensory sensitivity, I’ve learned that it’s just as crucial to continue encouraging him to try new things. Just like any other child, he deserves to experience everything he can–even if he is reluctant at first.

Our next potential endeavour:

Eating vegetables.

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