Finding a Cause while Walking on a Shaky Ground

April 24, 2018

More than a year ago, Pam who was Robert’s skill instructor at that time, noticed a behavior which struck her as very unusual.  It certainly didn’t belong to the already wide range of Robert’s behaviors.  Pam and Robert were in the Applebee’s Restaurant.  Robert was walking from the restroom toward their table when suddenly he froze as if something internal restrained him. He put one leg forward and immediately pulled it back. He started patting (slapping very quickly in short movements) his cheeks and/or ears.  He didn’t react to Pam encouraging him to come to the table.

It probably didn’t last long, but it lasted long enough for Pam to worry.

Since that time, I have noticed the same pattern of behaviors many times  during our outings.  It happened once as we  wait in line for Robert crispy chicken sandwich at McDonald. It happened  after Robert finished his sandwich and disposed of the paper box and cup.  He froze next to the trashcan and then at the door as he was leaving.  Over all in the last month he froze three times after eating his sandwich in McDonald.  Twice with me and once with Tim. He froze one Friday at the Science Museum, but not the other Friday while he visited the same place.

So what could be a factor if not the cause.

The first Friday we arrived before noon.  The Museum was packed with middle and high school students on field trips.  There were many, MANY parents with little children.  Some babies in strollers and many more toddlers on the loose.  The parents were moving in relatively straight lines, but the children oscillated in their proximity with wide range of amplitudes and frequencies. It was not easy to move safely, but we managed to order food and find a table without bumping into anybody.  We ordered food because I thought that chicken fingers and fries would let Robert  settle and adjust to the surrounding chaos. I am not sure if that was the case.  After lunch we went to see temporary exhibition Mirror Maze. I manged to get lost twice in short time and return to the entrance but the third time Robert took over and somehow led us to the exit.  Then, as we got into blue wing, Robert froze again.  He made some upsetting noises expressing his discomfort.  Ha patted his cheeks/ears.  With lots of nagging he moved a few steps and then he stopped.  By the time we reached the car, the same behavior happened three or four times.  Yes, the little children crossed his path many times while continuing weaving around their parents and siblings. yes, there were times, when we had to stop suddenly not to bump into innocent morsels of energy.  Yes, it was overwhelming.  So maybe Robert’s freezing had anything to do with over stimulation?  But then many times, Robert was in places equally chaotic including the same Museum.  Moreover, on the way home, I heard Robert held his breath in a way I associated with some sort of physical discomfort, some sort of pain.  I saw in the car mirror that he had some symptoms of acid reflux. I don’t know if the stomach discomfort was first and made him more susceptible to over-stimulation  or if over stimulation somehow expressed itself as acid reflux.

The following week, we went to the Science Museum again. But this time we arrived by 7PM knowing that on Fridays, Museum is open until 9PM.  At 7 PM museum was a peaceful place.  No field trips.  Babies and toddlers probably already sleeping. Teenagers on dates happening somewhere else.  The cafeteria already closed.  Calm walk to the Mirror Maze.  Robert wanted to show that exhibition to his dad.  He made sure that dad didn’t get lost.  Then we went to see 4D movie about sharks.  We were the only viewers in the room.  We stopped at one more place so jan could demonstrate to Robert something about simple machines and then we came home.

This Sunday, Robert and I went to Roger Williams Park and Zoo.  It was a beautiful day. One of the very few gorgeous days in this very rainy and snowy April.  So the Zoo was packed.  It took a few trips around all four parking lot before we found a place. And the Zoo was as crowded as the parking lots suggested it would be.  Parents with children outing with other parents with children. We glanced at zebras, wildebeests, and watusi.  We stopped a little longer to admire cheetahs climbing a boulder.  Then we entered a temporary South American Pavilion.  Quick glance at sleeping sloth a few monkeys and flamingos.  As we were leaving Robert froze again.  Yes, there was a commotion.  At least two families were leaving at the same time and they seem to wait for each other.  But there was also a slightly different smell which could affect Robert’s breathing.  whatever the reason, Robert made noises alerting everybody to his discomfort.  He moved a few steps and then froze again patting his ears/cheeks.   I told him that if he continues screaming e have to go home.  I asked him if he wants to stay or go home.  “Stay, stay” he responded and relatively calmly followed me on a path around wetlands.  From that time on, we had a very pleasant time with little confusion around elephant pavilion.  We were able to see well two moon bears and two snow leopards resting on cliff.  Robert asked for fries but didn’t insisted when I told him that we would eat at home.  He found a stand with watermelon slash and pretzels. To my surprise he asked for both.  It was the first time he wanted to eat pretzel.  The zoo was still crowded, the children were still running in hard to follow curves, but Robert walk calmly glancing at other animals and eating his pretzel.

I don’t know what conclusion I could make from this hardly functional analysis of behavior. What factors play the role? Food?  which food?  Over stimulation?  But on which circumstances? Quality of air but while in South American pavilion and not in the Australian one?   Something else…


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