For many parents on holiday, this picture would be an average photo they would take of their child playing on the beach.
For me, it is loaded with so much emotion, that you simply wouldn’t see.
Having a child with autism can be more challenging when trying to do typical family outings – for many of us it is a miracle in itself to enable this experience for our children or young people.
Our children may face extreme sensory difficulties; to play on the sand, to feel too warm, to endure direct sunlight or to be overwhelmed by crowds or noise – these are all challenges enough they have to overcome.
So, when I look at this picture, I have to remember how avoidant she was about going to the beach and how she managed her anxieties enough to cope with the demands ahead.
She was so proud of the sand castle she had made and the shiny shell she used to decorate it.
Despite the lengths it took to get her there, she really enjoyed playing, and the freedom the beach has to offer.
However, if you look closely, the inner turmoil is still etched upon her face and her hand is nervously fiddling with the sand. Her body language is often written with anxiety, it’s subtle, but I can always see it.
That anxiety that is already full to the brim and could overflow at any single moment.
As a family (myself as the parent, her siblings and her grandparents) all work together like a tag team so that we can assist her needs and try to help her feel that bit calmer.
What we can’t prepare for is the inhospitable world we live in.
A small girl wondered over and took the shell away from her sandcastle. The beast unleashed instantaneously. I can still hear the words as they echoed over the beach; “Nooooo!!!! That was my shell!” She was screaming so loud as she snatched the shell back from the alarmed child.
I tried my best to calm her down but she was already in meltdown. As I placed the shell back onto the castle, it was already cracked and the sand had a wedge at the top.
Once my daughter saw the imperfection she got even angrier, screaming and crying, and finally she sabotaged the castle herself with the spade then jumped up and down on it in distress.
The girl had returned to the group she was with and they all started pointing and laughing at my daughter in her moment of overload.
My child stuck out her tongue as the tears were flowing sadly down her cheeks.
So the adults and the children in the group stuck their tongues out back. This was like dangling a red rag to a bull.
They watched on as my daughter’s overload heightened even further. They laughed, screamed, taunted and jeered at her – they copied her and enjoyed every moment that she reacted in distress.
A part of me felt like I was broken right then in that moment.
I can do my very best to parent her, to love and prepare her, to guide her with strategies, but what I can’t do is protect her from an unforgiving, inhospitable world.
I tried every strategy possible but I couldn’t manoeuvre my child around the environment or the triggers that were being thrown at her.
So, I whispered in her ear. I asked her, “do you know what will make them stop?”
She listened and nodded, waiting for an answer. She often loses her words when her anxieties are heightened.
So I asked her to ignore them and if we laughed it would annoy them more and make them stop.
Then she kept on doing it.
We rebuilt her castle, put the shell back on and a sense of equilibrium had returned.
I told her I’d write about them on my blog and tell the world how silly they were and she beamed the biggest smile.
She excitedly talked about them being bullies and how if we wrote about it then the police would get them.
I ushered her forwards, trying to block her view, so that she wouldn’t retaliate as they were trying to entice her back into their game for entertainment.
She washed off under the shower – this is time consuming as she has to get off every peck of sand that touches her body.
Knowing their entertainment was going, they followed us to the shower and carried on their circus, asking us what our problem was and continuing their taunts.
One of the men even asked my dad to have it out “man to man” in broken English. My father, ever the diplomat, asked them to go their way and we would go ours. I don’t know how he acted so calm at this point, inside I was like a Rottweiler, ready to rip them to pieces.
I guess that’s the mama protective bear coming out – I certainly could feel my teeth snarling.
We hadn’t taken their offer to extend the dispute and we were walking away with our heads proudly fixed upon our shoulders.
My daughter didn’t see but the adults had told the children to destroy her sandcastle.
The kids jumped up and down on it in glee, imitating my daughter’s earlier actions, in one final act of retribution.
We carried on walking and bought an ice cream instead. I could not have bared to see her crumble as they relished her distress.
I wouldn’t change my daughter for the world; she experiences it just differently to others. But if I could, then I would, change the inhospitable world she lives in.