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When I think back to Joseph’s school year, I feel nauseous. He tried so hard to fit in — but he didn’t. With 15 kids in his class, the selection of friends was (and will continue to be) limited. In my mind I called him a Peripheral Kid, someone who hung out only on the edges of small groups of friends. Sometimes they’d put up with him and sometimes they wouldn’t. He’d come home this past year and quote some of the things they said:

You’re hanging around us too much.
Be around us only on really special occasions.
Don’t you have somewhere else you can go?
Leave us alone.
Go away.

Even the other autistic kid in his class told Joseph he wanted to be alone. Sigh.

Some kids with autism don’t care about having friends. Sometimes I wish this was the case with Joseph. But he cares, and with all his heart. He wants so badly to fit in, to be included. Middle school is an incredibly difficult time, with tremendous pressure socially. No kid in Joseph’s class seems willing to extend friendship to him and become, perhaps, a social pariah along with him.

It sucks. It just does.

On the other hand, there is great potential for learning. Joseph is on the swim team this summer, and a kid he likes greatly (Lance) has just told him not to talk to him anymore. Both Blue Eyes and I have spoken to Joseph about the way he’s yelled Lance’s name out inappropriately, embarrassed him in front of his friends, and hasn’t read Lance’s signals to leave him alone. But Joseph didn’t want to hear it from us.

So it comes to this: Lance telling him outright to Leave. Him. Alone. I can’t blame Lance — though I’d sure like to. 🙂

I take great comfort in Love and Logic’s perspective that childhood is the best time to make as many mistakes as possible. In suffering the consequences, our kids discover what works and what doesn’t. It’s the absolute best way to learn and grow, and right now these kinds of mistakes, though sometimes very painful, are also very affordable.

That’s great, and still I feel so helpless. I hate that he needs to blunder his way through this. Social skills, after all, are the greatest deficit of autism. How does one get over this deficit? Can a blind person learn to see, no matter how many times she bumps into things?

Obviously not — but she can learn to use a cane, or a seeing-eye-dog, to help herself navigate. What is the highly-functioning autistic person’s cane?

In our case at the moment, it’s the wonderful people who step forward. For example, I’m sitting here at Joe’s swim practice, and a kid walks up and introduces himself as Joseph’s mentor. He says he swims with Joseph and makes sure he does the strokes right. This same kid has joined us during the long swim meets, bringing his friends along to play Legos with Joseph.

Or my dear speech therapist friend, who will take Joseph to play with her two boys. She not only helps Joseph with social interactions, but has given her kids language to use to help Joseph when he is socially inappropriate.

— — — —

As is often the case, I started this post in despair and finished it remembering the truth. I hope that, when you are in fear and worry, you journal or blog about it. It’s a great opportunity to settle again into oneSelf. Allowing ourselves to feel and express our fears downloads them onto the page or screen, and then we find — ahhhh — we can settle into this moment, where none of the bad things, real or imagined, are happening. From this perspective, I see once again that neither Joseph nor I is alone in this.

In fact, just the opposite: We are loved, supported and held.

As are you.

Blessings.

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Blue Eyes and I are fortunate in that we are surrounded by a loving community of friends. Many of us lived in an actual spiritual community together and left it at around the same time, settling in a nearby town and finding our way in the “real world.” As you can imagine, there is a deep bond between us all. We get together every week to meditate, and there are numerous times when we gather for other, more social, occasions.

Naturally, when Joseph joined our lives we dreamed he’d be a part of this community. He’d have so many aunts and uncles, so many people who would love him, care about him, and be in relationship with him.

Then came autism.

At the end of our meditation last week, a longtime friend named Carla shared a story with the group. She’d been sitting in a local cafe when all of a sudden a sweet, blond-haired boy jumped into her lap, smiling up at her. Then his sister walked up and very politely introduced her to her friend, telling her that Carla was her “second godmother.” Carla shared about what a precious moment that was, as these are kids from another couple in our group, and she so appreciates having this close, loving relationship with the kids.

Everyone, of course, was delighted with the story, and there was laughter and love around it.

But I could not laugh. I felt the punch in the gut that I get every now and then, the surprise OOOMPH that lands out of nowhere, causing me to double up in pain as the tears spring to my eyes.

I made my way quietly to the door, sat outside and cried.

crowdAutistic kids are often afraid of people. Mine is. A frequent public humiliation is being somewhere, anywhere, with Joseph, when we encounter other people. “HELP, MOM!” Joseph will call out loudly. “It’s people! I’M SCARED OF PEOPLE!”

It’s hard. It’s just bloody hard.

Which brings us to aparigraha. A Sanskrit word, aparigraha means non-envy. It is about avoiding greed-based desire that is rooted in jealousy: the desire to be what someone else is, to be where they are in life, or to have what they have. Aparigraha is about looking at someone else and not saying, “I want that.”

But I do want it. I want my son to be an integral, beloved part of my community. I want it for me and I want it for him.

I don’t have it. And I’m sad about that.

Life goes on, and so will I. But in the meantime here I sit, grieving, letting go of yet another dream.

Autism and Spirituality: the Dance

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