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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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A couple of months ago, I had a one-on-one session with a spiritual teacher. In tears, I told him that I coudn’t relax. My jaw was in a continually-tightening vice that was now causing nasty headaches. My body was clenched and tight, my mind was in fear, I couldn’t sleep, and everything was a stress. He helped me through it — gave me tools to pause, let go of the difficulty, and relax into ease. Everything you need is already here, he said: Abundant love, unending help, incredible wisdom. Just choose it.

This, along with some other practices I’d lately incorporated, has brought about a transformation in my life. I choose ease much more often. I laugh more readily. I don’t have headaches. I sleep. I have so much gratitude for this shift — one that, for many years, I thought would never come.

I doubt that any parent of an autistic child ever forgets the moment they receive the diagnosis. When the psychologist pronounced it to us ten years ago, I bawled. I also future-tripped. The images for the future looked like a boy, teen, young man, etc who stood in a corner and flapped his hands, cooing and moaning. Wearing diapers, never engaging meaningfully, never a friend in the world. What a scary image that was, and how it tortured me through those early years. That was when the stress and terror began.

This blog documents a lot of the harder moments so I won’t go into them here. Suffice it to say that tension and fear became chronic companions in body and mind, and sometimes even in spirit. And this is largely how I’ve been for the past 10 years.

Now Joseph is 12. I’ve gone back to work part-time, and last summer I dragged Joseph into the office with me now and then so that I could get some work done. This year, as summer approached, Joseph told me he wanted to go to day camps: “Anything other than going to the office with you, Mom!”

So Joseph started his summer break this week by attending camp in the mornings at our former church. As we drove toward the church I started past-tripping this time, remembering other events where we’d walk into a room full of strange kids and Joseph would cling desperately to me, refusing to let go, overcome by fear and anxiety.

Not this time. We walked into the room and he said goodbye, asked the camp counselor where he should sit, and sat. I was all the way out to the car when I remembered that I needed to give him some money. I went back in and found him, handing him a $10 bill. “Enjoy your day, Mom. Enjoy your day,” he said with emphasis, meaning “Get out of here, Mom, you are not welcome here.”

Geez. Talk about a shift!

Friends have also been a new thing, dissolving a big chunk of the torturous, future-tripping experience. This year Joseph had a best friend, a second best friend and a third best friend. He is spending every Tuesday this summer at his best friend’s house, and every other Thursday with his second bestie. They are not the friendships I would have but they are definitely friendships, and I am so happy for him. Joseph doesn’t notice that this is a miracle at all; he never thinks to question the fact that he has friends. I mean, why wouldn’t he have friends?

Why indeed. Joseph doesn’t think about his autism at all, as far as I can tell. In fact, he’s told us that he’s done playing sports with the special needs kids; he wants to be on the typical teams. This one is a little tricky for me because he can’t keep up with the typical kids, but then neither is he slow enough to be on the special needs team. We’ve told him that, if he practices and is good enough, we will support him being on the same teams as his friends. In the meantime, we’re encouraging swim team and other sports that don’t require so much dynamic interaction.

My oh my, what a journey. It is good to breathe and let the hard stuff go, because I choose ease. I choose love. I choose to know my connection to the Divine. I choose to step lightly.

It’s dark because you are trying too hard. Lightly, child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly. Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply. Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them. I was so preposterously serious in those days…Lightly, lightly — it’s the best advice ever given me…So throw away your baggage and go forward. There are quicksands all about you, sucking at your feet, trying to suck you down into fear and self-pity and despair. That’s why you must walk so lightly. Lightly, my darling. ~ Aldous Huxley

Blessings to all.

 

 

 

 

Autism and Spirituality: the Dance

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