We are a tribal people, and tribal people have gatherings. When you have a child with autism, however, gatherings take on a whole new dimension. These kids are so sensitive that gatherings can knock them right out of their center. Dis-regulate them, as we say in the trade.

I think we’ve only really done it right one time: last Thanksgiving. We arrived a couple of days early to my brother’s house, when only my brother and sister-in-law were there. There were just the 5 of us that first day and night. We made a point of having fun together and exploring the new house and its surroundings. And getting to know the chihuahua, Roxy.

The next day, two of Joseph’s grownup cousins arrived. This too was great, as he was already comfortable with where he was and who he was with; he was able to adapt to, and interact with, the new folks on the scene.

Then Thanksgiving Day arrived. Joseph had been warned that, on this day, more and more people would come — and indeed they did. We ended up with about 30 people. But because Joseph had already adjusted, he was able to be really comfortable with everyone. It was a banner occasion for us.

Last weekend there was another family gathering. We got a late start. By the time we arrived, there were already 10 people there, and within moments another 4 showed up, including 2 younger kids.

Poor Joseph. He spent most of the time outside, playing in the dirt, by himself. It was too much too soon. Another incident of bad parenthood to put in the annals of our history.

But here’s the clincher: at one point Blue Eyes went out to be with Joseph. Joseph looked at him and said disconsolately, “I’m all alone!” 😦

So sad. In some ways it’s harder now that he can express himself better.

Anyway. We are now recommitted to doing it right the next time: arrive very early, warm up to the people and place, and allow change to happen little by little.

The whole thing was complicated by the fact that I had an excruciatingly painful toothache. Joseph used to laugh when I cried and ignore me when I was sick, but as he recovers from autism he becomes more and more sensitive to my moods and my troubles. So he was already down about the fact that his mom was in pain. He perked up moments after I came home from the dentist on Tuesday.

If you haven’t seen the movie Autism: the Musical, I highly recommend it. At one point they create a song for a boy around Joseph’s age – a song reflecting the boy’s feelings for what society is telling him: You’re just too sensitive, you’re just too sensitive. Sensitive!

My heart goes out to these sensitive kids. What beautiful souls they are. I think it’s important that we help them to feel competent in situations that are consistently challenging — like the dreaded gatherings.

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