A Lesson of the Heart by Kristi Fox

A Lesson of the Heart by Kristi Fox

When the unexpected happens…

What exactly happened?  I’m not really sure, but I have a few hunches.  Yes, the alarms were sounding, yes my neurodivergent kiddo was somehow the cause of the alarms going off.  

As a parent, or caregiver, we are constantly helping our child navigate the unexpected. Our children are watching us and modeling their responses based on what we do and say. They are looking to us to see how they should respond and behave. 

My young neurodivergent 1st grader was complaining of some headaches and seeing some spots from time to time.  After checking in with him a number of times over a few weeks I couldn’t quite tell if this was a persistent problem, or if it had happened, and he was just recounting the time that it did happen, or in his case, perseverating. 

When do parenting skills come into play?

Off to the optometrist we went.  Here is where my parenting skills were tried. The office was inside a larger medical building connected to the hospital.  As I was checking in to the appointment, my kiddo headed over to a kids table around the corner and curiosity struck within 3 minutes. Just as I finished with the co-pay an alarm started to sound.  This was similar to a fire alarm. Lights were flashing and alarms were blaring. I wasn’t exactly sure what was happening, however I felt strongly that my kiddo was likely connected, even as I was hoping it was just a coincidence. 

I walked around the corner, probably 15 feet to where my kiddo had sat down and saw him.  He was scared, frightened, and had tears in his eyes.  He was covering his ears and was looking for me as medical personnel were headed our way.  He said, “I was reading that thing on the wall, and it popped open!”

Yep, he had somehow caused the alarm to sound.  It wasn’t the fire alarm, it was the defibrillator  that was placed waist high on the wall in the children’s waiting area. It wasn’t far from eye level to him. It wasn’t far from the book shelf and the tot toys that were also placed on the wall for children to play with.  It was colorful and bright and had a lot of words for an early reader to explore.  What was that doing in the children’s corner?  I am sure the design team will rethink the placement after this event. 

How should we respond as parents and caregivers?

I don’t know why I responded the way that I did, but I just smiled and said with a laugh, “It’s okay. You're okay. Tell me what happened.”  I know my kiddo well enough to know that his curiosity has a strong pull and that he is also very literal. So, if he said he was reading the directions, I needed to dig in a bit deeper and ask a few more questions.  I also trusted the staff would know what to do.

Just then we were called back to the room to have his eyes checked.  As we were walking back to the room, the alarm turned off, and I could visually see my kiddo breathe with relief.  He wasn’t in trouble, the noise and lights had stopped, and everyone was very understanding and friendly.

When there were a few quiet moments as we were waiting I saw my young reader go up to a sign on the wall and explore it with his fingers. Just under the words to read with his eyes, there were raised dots for him to read with his fingers….  He was reading out loud, while trying to discern how the braille corresponded to the words. I smiled to myself as I realized what had happened in the waiting area. My sweet, curious, early reader was reading a sign in braille and must have touched the defibrillator just enough to have it pop open and sound the alarm. He was reading and following the directions.  He thought it was a toy for kids, just as the other toys on the wall were.  It was an innocent mistake that I am sure he will never make again.

What should our children know?

It all comes back to our responses as caregivers to our children. They are taking their cues from us as their trusted adults. It is our responsibility to help them navigate this complex world especially when the unexpected happens. Alarms will sound, lights will flash, questions will be asked.  Our children should know that we love them and are here to support them. They should know that unexpected things happen sometimes and that when they do, they are going to be okay because we will help them through it. 

I hope that this experience will not damper my child’s curiosity or desire to explore and that my response was wrapped in loving concern for his well being. I hope that my child will recognize that the unexpected happens sometimes and what they can do when it does. 

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