Friday, April 9, 2010

The Zoo is a zoo

Today Billy and I went to the zoo. Bet that surprised you, after reading the title...

We are Friends of Taronga Zoo, and we have been for the last four years. It was a deliberate move on our behalf, once we knew Billy loved animals. It's a strong bond, and something so strong, can be incredibly useful. Even as a tiny boy, a toddler, he was entranced by animals. He was naturally gentle, and completely unafraid.

If only we could say the same about little kids...

He was terrified of kids. He still wouldn't choose their company, but as a little one, the fear was immense. He would freeze in place, hold his hands over his ears, cry if they made a noise even a squeak over normal voice level.

In fact, it was a birthday party, when he was eight months old, that made me first seriously realise there was 'something' going on. We had friends who lived around the corner who had beautiful twin boys. We saw them almost every day, when we walked our dogs together. The boys were about fourteen months older than Billy. Their 2nd birthday party was the first one Billy had ever been to, and I was pretty impressed with how he handled it. He sat on the floor, in the middle of all the ladies, making goo goo eyes and smiling at them as they chatted to him.

Then the kids arrived. There were only five or six, aged from the birthday boys up to eight years old. The eight year old was particularly hepped up on party goofballs. Curiously, it turned out he has Aspergers. He had a shriek that could wake the dead, which he shared with us all as soon as he entered the room.

Billy jumped a mile, and cried like he'd been hit. So much so, that I really glared at the ladies around him, thinking one of them had stepped on his hand or something. Then the kid shrieked again, and the same cry came out of Billy. I picked him up and comforted him, and he calmed a little. Then came shriek number three. Again, Billy jumped, tensed and cried and cried and cried. So I carried him out of the room and... as soon as he was away from the noise, he stopped crying. No recovery, no nothing. Just fine. We walked back into the room, and the kid shrieked and... tears.

At that moment, my heart broke. I knew something was going on. I wasn't sure what, but I knew it wasn't good.

I couldn't get out of there fast enough. I packed up, picked up and walked home in floods of tears. Billy clung on like a koala, looking back over my shoulder, babbling, unaware of the tears pouring down my face. He was asleep by the time we got home, and I started my first obsessive googling run.

The obsessive googles still happen, but their frequency has lessened hugely over the lest six years... as I refined the search... and eventually found the key words that would become defining features of all of our lives - hypersensitivity to sound, hyperacusis, sensory processing, autism.

So... today, we went to the zoo. Six years (give or take a few months) from that day, and my brave boy was such a champion. It truly sucks there during school holidays. It's FULL of freaking people. People who don't usually go to the zoo. They can be truly foul too - yelling at animals, arguing with each other, complaining, leaving rubbish everywhere... ugh.

But, even with the crowds, Billy stuck it out, he coped, he even enjoyed himself.

As he has learned over four years of at least weekly visits to the zoo... it's all about the animals. He looked, he talked, he corrected people when they got the names of the animals wrong. He said, 'excuse me' so he could get a good view, and sometimes disappeared six deep into a crowd with just a glance back over at me, over his shoulder. My tiny man peeking over shoulders again...

So, even when it sucks, we love the zoo.

1 comment:

Mich9 said...

It's a comfort to know that despite his sensitivity to kids/noise, he can make himself strong enough to handle it so he can enjoy the animals he loves. What a lovely boy. :)