Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Day 21: Acceptance is a Safe Haven #SensoryHop

Ben feeling safe with his Nana and Papa.
**For those of you joining my blog for our monthly Sensory Blog Hop, I am writing a post a day on the topic of "Acceptance Is..." for the month of April in honor of Autism Acceptance month.  Thanks for reading!**

“Acceptance is a room (dimly lit)…” -Aspergers Square
 These words have been echoing in my mind since I first read them a few days ago. 

It's gotten me thinking about my son’s own need for safe havens. 

He is a child full of contrasts.

He is the boy with the loud voice who craves the quiet spaces.

He is the boy filled with energy who needs calm, serene surroundings.

Loud, busy spaces with brightly colored walls will amplify his personality and he will become more and more worked up.  

This can quickly spiral him out of control.  

He is learning how to breathe himself back to calm, but it’s hard to be quiet on the inside when the outside world is so noisy and chaotic and unpredictable.

Occupational therapy (OT) is his safe haven in a busy and often chaotic school day.

The sensory strategies work for him but he needs them often, especially in the fast-paced environment of the classroom.

Ben needs heavy work activities and vestibular input (swinging, spinning, etc) to help him to enter into his optimal learning state.

Without them, Ben’s brain enters into the fight or flight mode.  It’s hard to learn math when your hair is metaphorically on fire.

Ben’s school OT once told me once that when Ben is doing therapy in the OT room, an outside observer watching would have a hard time pointing him out as the kid on the spectrum. 

She said this not to minimize his autism but to show how powerful a factor the environment and the sensory strategies are for him.

I explained to Ben’s OT that he also wouldn’t stand out as “different” in most public places. 

I know that many kids who deal with sensory processing disorder struggle to go to the grocery store or a restaurant without becoming overloaded. 

Not Ben. 

He loves going out to eat and is perfectly calm and at ease in these places (assuming they don’t take too long to bring us our meals!)

As I explained this to Ben’s OT, she smiled and said to me, “Jessica, the common denominator in those experiences is you.  You are his anchor in the world.  This gives him the safety and security to go out confidently into life.”

There was a period time when Ben clung to me like a literal life preserver. 

It had to be me and no one else. 

If we were going anywhere, he would always ask, “Mommy too?”

Now we are at a place where it doesn’t have to be just me.  

So many people, from his Dad to his grandparents, to his extended family, love this little guy so much, and I believe that a big part of feeling secure for him is knowing first that he is loved.

Home has always been his source of ultimate security.  

For Ben, home is extending to more than just the place.

Home is the feeling he associates with it.

It is the anchor of holding hands through a crowded mall.

It is the reassurance of a hand on his shoulder while waiting in a line.

It’s the whispered reminder of how many more minutes while glancing at a watch.

On Saturday my husband and I sat in the theater lobby, waiting for Ben to finish his morning acting class.

I watched him bounce happily down the sidewalk with his teacher, his hand clasped in hers, some tissue flowers clasped in his other hand.

When he saw me, he came running, holding up the flowers to me.

His circle is expanding.

His safe haven is growing.


  1. Sooooo beautiful - thank you.

    Like Ben, I too sometimes feel like my "hair is on fire" - literally - as I get sensory overload induced migraines. I've only learned about safe havens in my 40s!

    Also like Ben, my son doesn't necessarily "stand out" as on the spectrum, which we've learned has pisitive and less-positive aspects...

    I hope I'm a good safe haven mom like you, and that my guy finds more as well <3


    1. I think you bring up a valuable point that it isn't all positive for those who don't "stand out" as different. I was reading an article about this today, and the author coined the term "passing Aspie". The person may appear to the rest of the world to "have it together" while internally they struggle. Sadly, the world often expects normalcy from those who can "pass" as "normal". This puts a lot of undue stress and demands on kids like ours. From what I can tell about you, you are the safest of havens for your guy- and you get it more than most because you experience what he experiences. This gives you the deepest of empathy. Thanks- as always- for sharing.

  2. That's a wonderful thing to see the circle grow. But, remember, you'll always be his first love. Sometimes it was hard for me to let go, but I"m glad I did. We've met some awesome, wonderful and supportive people who love Nathan as much as I do...well, almost as much as me.

    1. Yes- letting go can be hard but it is so rewarding to see him thriving out there in the world. It's true what they say- they grow up way too fast!


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