”Feed the goats!" I shouted. I held my daughter by her dungarees. She looked terrified and was pulling away from me. ”Feed the goats,” I demanded again, this time louder. Everyone was staring. I was mortified. My daughter remained silent. I was pleading now. ”Please, feed them.” I wasn't gonna to stop until she did. We were at a stalemate. I too was wearing dungarees. She tentatively held out a piece of carrot. The goat took it from her hand. ”I did it!” she exclaimed, delightedly.
How did we get here? Me shouting, clutching onto a piece of denim, as my daughter squirmed, while everyone watched in horror. A grown adult, getting a little girl to feed a goat she had no desire to feed. I had already forced my daughter into a pair of dungarees, onto a slide, to cuddle a guinea pig against her will, and here we were wrestling by the animal pens.
We were at a birthday party. It was my friend's son, and both of my children knew him well. My kids love farms, and I thought it was going to be a lovely day. The birthday boy had a wonderful time, and so did all of his friends. It went a slightly different way for my family. It was a baking, hot day, and there were around 10 children at the birthday celebration, with adults nearby.
During the party, my children were reacting ever so slightly later than the other children, missing out on the experiences, getting their food and drink last, missing the jokes from the party organiser; not able to express their true feelings, and communicate their wants and needs. This came out in gasps of frustration, tears and screaming. They refused to do things that the other children were doing, and they panicked, it felt so stressful. My husband and I were running after our children, while the other adults were chatting with each other.
”It's going to get you," the party organiser teased, as he waved a chicken about. My children cried. They thought the chicken was going to get them. ”Ah," he shouted, quickly, to make the kids jump, all the kids laughed. My children cried, they didn't get the joke. It was just frightening to them. If someone tells you that a chicken is coming after you, mixed in with all the other facts he was giving, you believe it. You certainly do if you have an autistic spectrum condition. If the smells, sounds, and the sheer amount of people are overwhelming to you, and the facts and jokes are mixed together.
”You can stay a bit longer,” my friend said, as she packed up her son's birthday cake. We decided to do that. The rest of the children received their party bags and left. My children were suddenly wholly different. Where they had struggled, they did things with ease. Where there was screaming, there was silence. Where there was resistance, there was acceptance. My daughter happily cuddled a rabbit, played on the tractors, and went up and down the slide 20 times.
I sat by my daughter as she was happily cuddling a black rabbit called Velvet. She told me that she wanted to hold a rabbit earlier and not a guinea pig. She wasn't able to communicate that at the time. Everyone else was given a rabbit, and she expected to get one too. My daughter didn't want to feed the goats not because she was frightened but because she didn't like the feeling of them licking her, it felt too strange.
How did I end up trying to get her to do things she didn't want to do? Firstly, I had asked her to wear dungarees because I thought they were more appropriate for the farm than the pink dress she wanted to wear. ”People won't know that I am a girl mummy," she said. I agreed to wear dungarees too, to show that women and girls could wear them. In the case of the goat, I thought if she just tried it she would realise it isn't as bad as she thought. I felt she was letting her anxiety get in the way of something that could be quickly over. It was a technique that had worked before. The more you worry, the worse something gets I thought. Except for this time I had timed it poorly. It came across as shouting at my daughter for no reason. Finally, the slide was something that my daughter really did enjoy but needed a great deal of encouragement to ensure that she gave it a try the first time.
Later on the farm, in the exact same place, my children were unrecognisable. They were the beautiful, articulate, confident, creative, risk-taking and playful individuals they are. Autism, what autism? Twenty minutes earlier they had been screaming, crying, resisting, fighting, noncompliant, inarticulate, shy, mute and anxious. There are many reasons why children scream and shout, it is essential to understand why. It could be as simple as not liking a goat licking you but being unable to communicate that. With observation, acceptance, and help, let us enable our children to have new experiences that aren't terrifying. Then let's hope they dare to feed the goats.