Recently I needed to stop by my office at work to pick something up and I had to take Baby Bee along. He was more than reluctant to go because of "the people" there. He came up with a number of alternate plans (he could stay home, he could go to his caregiver's house, he could wait in the car) but the reality was he had no other choice. He was paralyzed with fear. So rather than dragging him against his will, I did what all parents do--I bargained with him.
We are always searching for ways to help him interact with others in a positive way. We want to encourage him to push himself without pushing him over that cliff of no return. We want him to feel in control of the situation so he doesn't return with a laundry list of things that happened TO him or AT him or ON him.
During my bargaining attempts, I learned a little more about "the people." I learned Baby Bee was afraid they would talk to him and that he didn't feel like he could say anything to them at all, much less say "no thank you" to their socialization attempts.
We finally came up with the idea that he could use a physical sign to show people what he needed, so he wouldn't have to say a word. He agreed to give it a try and we spent 10 minutes hashing out language he felt was acceptable. The kid has strong feelings. About everything.
"No, thank you. I don't feel like talking right now. Please give me some space."
We role played with stuffed animals invading his space and trying to talk with him. He held his sign tentatively and soon with pride. I heard him whisper, "no thank you" to the big brown dancing bear annoyingly close in his face. And then, we got in the car and went to the office.
Since that day we've continued to practice using the sign as part of our going out routine. My close friend even made us an upgraded set of signs fit to Baby Bee's specifications (all red, one igloo shaped, one diamond shaped, one oval shaped). I might remind him of the tools we have available, but he chooses when to use it. Sometimes that's when he's sitting in the front yard and a jogger is running past--unaware he even exists. Other times it's in the grocery store, holding it firmly for all to see, a sort of warning to anyone who might approach. A few times he's held it out and looked the other way when an individual insists on talking to him before he goes into shutdown/scream mode. People don't always take it seriously but I figure that's why I'm there. (I promise I'm always polite!)
My favorite time he uses his sign is when after a long time of holding it as his shield, he lowers it or even sets it down, and says, "Hi!" to an unsuspecting person who has caught his fancy. Repeat mode sets in as he stammers the same phrase about the random "object of the day" he is holding and I know he's connecting with someone on his own terms, in a way he will feel good about tomorrow.