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Every year, as I’ve dropped Joseph off at school, I’ve marked the day when excited 6th-8th graders have gathered in the parking lot with their luggage, waiting to leave for science camp. Through the years I’ve tried not to think about science camp much, as I couldn’t imagine Joseph being one of those kids. For one thing, he wet his bed forever, first weekly or so, then monthly or so. Only in the last year has it become an extremely rare occurence. How embarrassing would it be for a preteen to wet his bed in front of his peers? Secondly, I couldn’t imagine someone who isn’t good with change coping in such a new, dynamic environment for four nights and five days.

But last year, Joseph and Blue Eyes attended the 8th grade graduation ceremony and heard the kids’ parting speeches. Many of them spoke nostalgically about science camp being one of the highlights of all their years at school. When he began 6th grade this year and science camp was discussed, Joseph decided that he wanted to go. His best friend, Dallas, was going, and that seemed to make it all ok.

science-camp-3Dallas is a wonderful young man, sweet and smart and caring. The bond between him and Joseph is lovely to see and, though I sometimes wonder why a neurotypical kid with good communication skills wants to hang with a non-neurotypical kid without such good communication skills, I am most grateful for their friendship. Who knows what draws people together? Dallas stutters but manages to get around that nicely — maybe that’s what gives him compassion for Joseph’s challenges. I once asked Joseph if they’d ever discussed Dallas’ stutters. Joseph said, “No. We don’t talk about his stutter or my flapping. It’d be too embarrassing for us both.”

That’s quite insightful, don’t you think?

But I digress. As science camp came closer, I started a major (but private) freak-out: What if Joseph didn’t sleep at night, which used to happen all the time when we slept away from home? What if he got severely constipated, which also used to happen? The reason we bought our old beater of an RV was because it became the one place besides home where Joseph would poop and sleep, and it enabled us to travel. Other than sending mail to science camp, parents were not allowed to communicate with their kids and we most certainly were not allowed to be there. How could I make sure he was okay?

Joseph’s second best friend, Allen, is in his class and is a very high-functioning spectrum kid. Allen’s parents made the decision not to let him go to science camp for the same fears I had: not sleeping and not pooping. I felt deep compassion for their choice as I lay awake at night, worrying about these very issues.

It’s been said that Satan loves it when we don’t ask for help. My fears were in charge until I finally emailed Joseph’s teacher, expressing my worries. She wrote back that the camp nurse could check in with Joseph confidentially to make sure he was pooping, and that I could give the nurse an herbal laxative to administer should Joseph need it. She reassured me of the camp schedule and said that she and all the other staff would keep an eye on Joseph to make sure he was doing okay. I cried in private to Blue Eyes, who said that yes, he’d probably be somewhat sleep-deprived, but was that problem important enough to miss this amazing opportunity?

With that reassurance, I let go. Ever since Joseph turned six and declared he was ready for neurotypical kindergarten, he has been the driver for his next steps. He wants a dog, even though he’s scared of them? We got a dog. He wants to create a CD? Our friend has helped him to record several. He wants to be on the swim team, even though he can’t dive? That happened. He wants to stop attending special-needs basketball and instead join the school basketball team? He’s on the team. He wants to go to science camp? Well, good morning, campers!

sciencecamp1Yesterday morning, Blue Eyes went and picked up Joseph and some of the other kids to bring them home. One of the boys looked like he hadn’t washed his face since he’d arrived at camp. The boys were so tired they could barely speak. Joseph, though obviously sleepy, was the most-rested kid in the car.

Expectations are choosing, in the present moment, to be disappointed at some future time. With this in mind, I worked with myself not to expect Joseph to tell me all about his experience at once. The vision I tried not to envision was sitting around the dinner table that night, hearing his camp stories.  Joseph doesn’t like to be pressured to talk (have I mentioned the lack of communication skills?).

But when I got home from work, he was ready to talk. Enough. And at dinner, he talked some more. We heard the camp songs, the camp rules; we learned about the bird sanctuary and the night hikes. We heard about the running jokes in the cabin he shared with his classmates, the very boy-behaviors at night (think stinky gas) and the unique characters on the camp staff. We got him to bed at a decent hour and he slept 10 1/2 hours.

And yes, he pooped while he was at camp. Every single day.

He and Dallas have decided they want to go there again this summer for camp. Though I am already noticing a little worry (his teacher won’t be there; who will look after him with such diligence?), I know that, this time around, letting go will be easier.

Several years ago, Joseph turned to me out of the blue and said, “You know, Mom, I won’t be living with you forever.” When autism is in the mix, parents aren’t sure if this is true. We have to look at questions other parents might not, like can they find work and perform it well enough? Do they have the skills to live independently? Can they live in a way that isn’t isolating, but that offers them friends and, dare I say, a family of their own?

The past statistics are not encouraging, but Joseph doesn’t take those into account. He hasn’t read the autism book and he’s not going to, so who knows where his trajectory will take him? The words of Kahlil Gibran come to mind, and are a most fitting way to end this post:

Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you,

And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts.

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.

For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.

The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.

Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;

For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Blessings to all.

This is a picture of, from left, Carl, DJ and Joseph. That’s Lana’s hand on Carl. With hubby/dad Fred, they moved into our guest house for 12 days in June, left for a while, and have now moved back there for a couple of months while they house-shop.

Joseph and the boys have become fast friends. DJ is the oldest: a mature, sensitive five year-old, he and Joseph play together the most.

They were playing together the other day, jumping on the trampoline, talking, laughing, in general having a great time. A short while later, when I checked again, Joseph was sitting all alone on the trampoline, enveloped in a cloud of sadness. He looked lost and confused.

“What’s going on?” I asked casually.

“I don’t know,” Joseph replied. “DJ is mad at me and I didn’t even do anything!”

As we continued to talk, it turned out that the “anything” Joseph didn’t do involved throwing a nerf football hard into DJ’s stomach, making DJ cry and run for home.

“If it was me, I would apologize,” I say, using my Love and Logic consultant approach.

“No, I won’t do that, but I’ll go check on him,’ Joseph said, running off for the guest house. Before long, the kids were playing again.

Scenarios like this repeat themselves over and over again with the boys. Joseph needs so much practice on the social level. It is deeply embarrassing to me that he doesn’t understand seemingly basic things — that he needs a real person to ‘throw things at’ before the feedback is strong enough for him to get it.

Yesterday he roared at DJ, “I don’t want to be your friend anymore!” This was a comment he’d picked up from a fellow friend on the spectrum and he obviously felt the need to try it out himself. Poor DJ sobbed and sobbed.

If the roles were reversed, i would feel protective of my boys and try to shield them from this kid who ‘should’ know better. But Lana is pretty amazing. She is a special ed teacher, so she comes equipped with an understanding most people don’t have.  She speaks frankly about the problems but she always seems willing to let her kids have another go with Joseph. I keep waiting for her (or the boys) to say, “We’re done! Never again!” but so far it hasn’t happened. What a godsend this family is!

And Joseph keeps learning. After yesterday’s incident we had a long discussion and then he, on his own initiative, wrote himself a reminder list. This is what it says:

Behave nice
Give Carl space
Give DJ space
Be nice, play nice
No hitting, no smoking

(I don’t know where he got the no smoking part from…?)

He posted it on the outside door so that he can look at it when he plays.

There is a bit of a bully in him. I think he likes to create a strong reaction in the little kids — both likes it and feels sorry afterward.

I feel lost to help him. Relationships are dynamic things, shape-shifting around all the time, — so the truth is that, in most ways, Joseph  has to work it out himself. I can help him reflect afterward, but most of it is on him.

Maybe that’s what makes it so hard. I can’t seem to prep him enough to make it a success; he’s got to learn out in the ditches. It makes me cringe.

But the Divine choreography of bringing in this family with great kids and a mom who gets, and really appreciates, special needs, gives me hope. Maybe I can’t help Joseph that much, but the real One in charge is really in charge, and I need to give it back to Him/Her. I’m not so good at giving back my burdens, which is probably why I’m here, unable to sleep, at 3am.

So, once again, I take a deep breath. I leave the land of worries, where my grown child resides alone with no friends, and land back in the present, where I can trust that much is happening beyond my little perspective. That a loving God has it all in His/Her hands, and that my job is to leave it there.

yearn·ing

[yur-ning]

noun 1. deep longing, especially when accompanied by sadness

Toward the middle of Joseph’s swim lesson, the next class starts filing in. It’s a special needs class in a way that’s very different to Joseph’s special needs: it’s adults, in their mid- to late- life, who are dealing with physical disabilities. They get into the warm water pool to walk and stretch, very gently and slowly.

They come early, because it takes each of them a long time to get changed and shower. Today Judy comes first, shuffling slowly through the door. She is bent over nearly double — looking, in profile, like the hunchback of Notre Dame. Her face screws up with the pain of walking each time she takes a step.

Next is Bill. I think he had a stroke, as half his face is paralyzed. For some reason this makes him look  like he’s constantly surprised. His body moves at a snail’s pace, and I marvel at the patience of his caretaker, who walks beside him.

Last is Linda, slim and pretty. She is by far the youngest in the class, perhaps in her late 30s. Until a few weeks ago Linda would walk in slowly, leaning hard on a walker, with her caretaker behind her in case she was needed. But now Linda’s caretaker  has a new role: pushing Linda in a wheelchair. I’d hoped it was only temporary — that Linda would get back onto her feet — but it seems like it’s her new reality.

I watch Linda get wheeled through the door and down the aisle to the dressing rooms. She looks over at the kids in the pool and I see it, just for a moment, on her face: pure wistfulness, a yearning to be in that pool, beating the water with strong legs and slicing the water with rapidly-moving arms. Like those kids. Sorrow that it isn’t that way for her…that, in fact, it’s going the other direction. It’s over in a flash, and then her face is calm and composed.

I know that feeling of yearning — of deep longing, accompanied by sadness. I yearn to have what parents of a typical kid has. And there is Linda, yearning to have what my kid has.

Geez. What a messed-up world.

While I was grocery shopping today, a baby girl and I met eyes. She smiled at me, and I smiled back. Later I saw her again, down another aisle. This time she called out, “Hi!” and gave me another great smile. Naturally, I answered her and smiled back, enjoying the connection with such a precious little cutie.

Then I felt the yearning again. This girl, she was getting the feedback system that our society gives to cute, friendly kids. Neuro-typical kids. It’s full of positive feelings. This girl feels liked by strangers, comfortable in her world, knowing that she is great just the way she is.

It wasn’t that way with Joseph. He is, by and large, withdrawn from strangers — and even from many people he knows. That sweet, shy smile; that teasing, flirtatious grin — not on my kid. So what kind of a feedback system has he gotten from our society, I wonder. I don’t think he feels loved and accepted by the world at large.

Then there is my friend, Therese. Kids are laughing and making fun of her ASD son in the classroom. Here we have a negative feedback system — and from his peers, no less. When Therese discussed with her boy a conflict he had unknowingly created with another child, he turned to her and said sadly, “Help me, Mommy!” She cried for hours.

It’s hard to be the different one. Especially when you don’t have the understanding to change it.

Therese yearns for it to be better for her son, for herself. I yearn for things to get better for them, too. Just now I am strongly yearning for Joseph to make a friend — one true friend — someone who will stand by him when things get rough, which they will.

I yearn not to be in this autism club that no one wants to join. I yearn not to be living, as someone put it once, a mother’s worst nightmare.

And Linda yearns to run, to dance, to swim. Or, at the very least, to be back on her walker.

I don’t have any answers today. No glib responses. I’m just here, in this space. Yearning. For myself, for my son, for anyone on this planet who has some deep pain and yearns for it to be otherwise.

Dear God, bless us in our pain. Help us, if we can’t surrender it to you, at least to share it with you.

Yearning. Just yearning.