Why my perfectly able bodied child needs a wheelchair
My son Leon has autism. He’s completely non verbal, has no way of communicating other than extremely limited PECS card usage (visual aids) and pointing. He has trouble dealing with sounds / smells & busy places. Some days he’s fine with it, other days he can’t cope. Unless you’ve experienced autism before you’ve probably little idea of the challenges it can present.
When you’re dealing with autism and a child who suffers with it, you find yourself trying to prevent meltdowns rather than deal with them when they come. You need to consider just how many people are likely to be in any place you plan on visiting at any given time – this means going to shops really early or later in the evening – going to parks early to avoid the times when all the other children will fill it up, going to ASN events (as these usually cater by having less children, less noise, less bright lights etc.)
Walking an extra 4 aisle lengths to avoid going passed the smell of the bakers. Driving round the long way to avoid being stuck in traffic and busy town centres. Preferring to walk around the store 4 times until you can see a checkout that’s almost empty so you’re not stood in the same spot waiting (waiting is never good).
Some days Leon is fine and we don’t need to do any of these things. But then there’s days where even the hissing sounds of a passing buses breaks can set Leon into a meltdown. A meltdown with Leon usually means he’ll lie down and bang his feet or head on the floor. Sometimes he’ll go rigid and just scream until I take him away from whatever has set him off (He’s 8 years old and it’s getting to the point where he’s too big to even do this). To a lot of people this looks like a tantrum of a child who’s too big to be tantruming and quite frankly during a meltdown I have no plans to excuse my child’s behaviour who’s actually in discomfort because he cannot process everything happening around him.
Autistic children often have a comfortable, safe place. For Leon it’s his room, the car and his chair. He had a McLaren Major chair previously (which is basically a large buggy.) With him being 8 now we recently changed it to an Action Junior 3 wheelchair. (Yes, a wheelchair!) Leon can walk, he has no physical mobility issues. However, being in his chair in busy places gives him one less thing to think about, one less touch to deal with (my hands) If it’s sounds that are too much for my son to handle then I can put on his ear defenders. He’s almost always ok then.
There’s a few times where even his chair doesn’t help, but they’re definitely far and few inbetween nowadays. It’s such a great wheelchair, much easier to work around the stores / parks. Much lighter to push. It has anti-tip bars at the back, so if Leon is having a meltdown in his chair then he is 99% of the time unable to tip it. Gladly we don’t and won’t always need to use it, but for the bad days it’s there.
As a side note, when I was out and about recently with him, I found myself getting funny looks and side glances when he was brought out of his chair to walk. So much so that even his brother noticed it. Everyone should be aware that not everyone using wheelchairs cannot walk at all. For some kids a chairs the difference between going out comfortably and not going out at all.