June 24, 2012
We’re the first ones on the field, and Zach decides to run the entire perimeter of the diamond just to make sure I understand the rules of the game. I assure him I’m no novice to baseball, and encourage him to keep up his pace, as I know it helps him get some of his energy out. It’s his third time out here but my first, as play practice forced me to miss his initial foray into the world of sports, and I’m excited to see what he can do. It’s been almost two years since we attempted soccer at the tender age of three, and given that my son spent most of those sessions running away with his little blonde-haired girlfriend, I admit I’m hoping for better today. Sports are such an important gateway to social opportunities, particularly for boys. My fingers are crossed that he’ll like this, and perhaps will make a new friend.
If not, I must also admit I know half the moms on his team, so it’s a social opportunity for me too. The evening is turning into a win-win.
We’ve signed Zach up for Challenger Baseball to give him the chance to learn the rules and practice in a non-competitive environment, and it is evident within minutes of meeting the coaches that they are as enthusiastic and committed to the program as I’ve heard they would be. Our town is very fortunate in that we have multiple sports opportunities geared toward children with a range of abilities, everything from baseball to basketball, soccer to hockey. While this world wasn’t exactly enticing to Justin (he lasted about ten minutes with ice hockey, just long enough to don all the gear and let me know in no uncertain terms he was not happy about it), I’m hoping Zach will find it more to his liking. Plus, I’ve heard that each of the kids gets a buddy to assist him through the ins and outs of the game, and that basically parents just sit back and watch.
A second, and for me profound, win-win.
Unfortunately that evening Zach’s assigned mentor doesn’t show, but we’re able to secure him a substitute, and my son works that pre-teen hard. The rules are that every kid on both teams gets to bat twice, and when they’re not waiting for their turn, they’re supposed to be practicing their outfield duties. Zach interprets this to mean he should throw the ball as far as humanly possible and watch while his buddy retrieves it, and it takes a while for him to comprehend that the goal is for each of them to actually catch that well-worn sphere. There are a few times he simply takes off running (this time without his golden-haired accomplice), and I register both exasperation and patience on his new friend’s face, but his helper unfailingly retrieves him every time. Eventually, Zach gets that he’s supposed to be paying attention to what’s going on around him. He even waits fairly compliantly for each of his turns at bat, cheering on one of his former classmates when he realizes Mommy is doing it, and that it’s fun.
In my opinion, minus the pretzels and beer, the best part of baseball is the yelling.
The game is over within the hour (everyone won, no surprises there), and my youngest child is returned to me, sweaty, dirty, thirsty, and thoroughly pleased with himself. I thank the tall teen who took care of him, and he graciously says it was fun, then walks away looking quite tired. I ask Zach if he’d like to do it again next week and I’m met with a resounding “yes!”, and I have to smile. There was a time not too long ago where me and my husband spent a great deal of time hoping he’d like something, anything, once again. To have that “something” be baseball, an activity his father not only loves but was once quite good at in his heyday, seems extravagantly fortunate. I am thrilled for my son. I’m thrilled for his dad. I make a mental note (one that this time I’m certain I’ll retain) that he should knock off work early next week, and watch his son engage in our nation’s favorite pastime.
It’s entirely possible after this run that Zach might not ever want to play again, but you never know. In the meantime, he’ll learn patience, sportsmanship, and (hopefully) a little bit about following the rules. He’ll have to engage in the subtle nuances of social interplay to get along with his designated pal, plus he’ll need to remember somebody else is his boss for an hour a week. Maybe he’ll make a new friend. Even better perhaps, he might discover a new passion, one he can share with the man he looks up to, literally and figuratively, every day. Hopefully, no matter what, he’ll have fun.
And with a little luck, in numerous respects, this may turn out to be his field of dreams come true.
June 17, 2012
We’re almost running late, and since it’s the first time Zach will be meeting his potential kindergarten teachers, I’m silently begging the lights to remain green. It was a bit of a struggle to get him out of the house, no different than many that have occurred over the last week or so. I’m pretty certain his departure in behavior is due to the impending finale of pre-school, a place where he’s laughed and learned with the same incredible staff for two-and-a-half years (at least I hope that closure is the reason). While I sympathize with him, this “tour” that we’re about to take is important, will give him the lay of the land so to speak of a new facility, and will hopefully endear him to his new educators. He needs to get it together.
After all, first impressions are everything.
I arrive in the parking lot with a minute to spare, rush into the building, and am relieved to know we have a few minutes before the “event” begins. Zach’s case manager is wonderful, and has graciously offered to continue attending to his needs next year, a decision for which I am grateful. Since he’s going to have to readjust to an entirely new set of staff this fall, it will be lovely for him to see a familiar face.
It will be lovely for his mommy too.
Eventually our fabulous child study team member comes to collect us, and Zach eagerly takes her proffered hand, and I smile. We start the tour on a high note (the science room, where my son has the opportunity to witness tadpoles and frogs in action), a locale which I quickly see ignites a spark of longing in him, a desire to return.
In quick succession we check out the auditorium, the mainstream classroom and teacher where he’ll hopefully spend his entire morning, and the educator of the self-contained classroom in which he’ll conclude his day. Everyone is so welcoming, and so clearly excited to meet their prospective student. I watch Zach soak up their warmth like strong rays of sun on his skin, and I see the dawning in his eyes of an exciting future. He can’t wait to attend this school.
And although part of me is scared for him, I can’t wait for him to attend it either.
All too soon our roaming ends, with a trip to the boys’ bathroom acting as our finale. Due to our case manager’s thoughtfulness Zach even receives a parting gift of goodies, which he eagerly explores and wants to play with immediately. I temper his enthusiasm a bit by promising him access in the car, thank our tour guide, and offer him my hand.
My appendage is resoundingly rejected. Zach is, after all, going to kindergarten this fall.
I know it will be only one of a thousand ways in which he’ll slowly leave, will exert the subtle shift from dependence to independence that an entire team of people have worked so diligently towards for four consecutive years. He does permit me to grasp his fingers as we enter the parking lot, and I listen as he chatters on enthusiastically about what he’s seen. He’s already spinning me a story about the amphibians he’s obviously taken to heart, one with woods and an evil witch who thankfully doesn’t sound anything like the teachers he’s just met.
When asked, he says he loves his new teachers. Thank God.
I’ve barely strapped him into his car seat when he asks for his “goody bag”, and I retrieve it for him from the front seat, reminding him not to lose the little pieces anywhere. He promises to be good and take care of them, and again I smile, because I know he will do his best, as he does in so many other areas of his life. I squeeze his hand and lean in for a kiss, one which he dutifully bestows upon his mommy, then turns back to his newfound treasure. I release his fingers reluctantly as I ponder how much more difficult this will be in September. Zach gives me his trademark glorious smile, and I close his door, knowing a new one will open for him soon.
It’s time to let go, and watch him fly.
June 11, 2012
It was just a simple thing really. My youngest child created a picture of nightmare-chasing robots, and he wanted to display it prominently in his brother’s room. The images were beautifully crafted (in my humble opinion), clearly rendering two fierce beings capable of protecting Justin throughout his nocturnal slumbers. Zach was adamant about where his artwork should reside, remaining stalwart in his determination even after I reminded him that Justin’s autism usually results in bare walls, devoid of paintings and photos. My smallest son simply turned to me and said “He won’t tear it down, Mommy”, and ran off to procure tape to adhere his masterpiece to the perfect spot.
Watching his unbridled enthusiasm made me hope he was right.
I followed Zach to his sibling’s room, helped him secure his art in the perfect place, one which will maximize its protective properties. I ask Zach if he wants to stay and read books from “Justin’s library”, and he politely declines, stating he’d prefer to play Transformers with me downstairs.
Oh well. I tried.
Four battles and as many vanquished Decepticons later, it’s finally time for me to collect Justin from his bus. I keep my fingers crossed that my eldest will admire his new “room accessory”, because it’s clearly important to his little brother, and would be a victory over some of the more destructive aspects of Justin’s OCD as well. Justin bounds off his vehicle and nearly bowls me over in an attempt to access the house as quickly as possible, and I follow quickly behind. I call out his verbal prompt of “shoes”, which he manages to shake off before he makes a beeline to the second floor.
Usually he follows this routine only when he requires water after a long bus ride, and today is no different. He slakes his thirst in the guest bathroom, then turns to make his way downstairs to what’s really important, that crucial afternoon snack.
I can always relate to him on that point.
He is just stretching out his hand to the banister when Zach barrels into him, and grabs his fingers to propel him back down the hallway. “Come see the robots that will save you!” yells my youngest, and at first Justin resists, clearly more compelled to satisfy his hunger than his brother’s whims. Zach prevails however, and Justin follows him dutifully to his room, where his sibling switches on the light with a dramatic “TA-DA!!!” coupled with a prominent point toward the wall hosting his talismans.
I hover behind, close enough to intervene, far enough to let some of this situation transpire naturally. Justin immediately notices his altered space, and moves forward for a closer inspection. He places his hand gently on the corner of his 8 ½ by 11 inch gift, and I tense. Then, he simply smiles.
Next, he turns around and makes a mad dash downstairs for a bagel.
“See Mommy, I was right, YOU were wrong!” says a joyful Zach, and I smile to myself and tell him he was correct, and that Justin loved his work. We make our way somewhat more slowly down the hall ourselves, and like most afternoons here, my two boys won’t really interact again. Justin will be consumed by his DVDs and whatever reading lessons I can sneak in on our computer.
His little brother will enthusiastically engage in a multitude of activities, ranging from writing a new story, to conquering Darth Vader’s stormtroopers with light sabers which never fail to smack me in a sensitive place. Their paths will not reconnect until bedtime, when Zach will attempt to snuggle a “goodnight” to Justin, and my sweet son will let him.
But that picture, rendered carefully in colored pencil points and designed to destroy any evil to come our way, will be the last thing I see as I quietly shut Justin’s door. It will be a reminder to me that I can step back a bit now. My boys are making attempts to know one another, moments born not of their mother’s manipulations, but inspired by a genuine interest in each other. It is a beautiful thing to witness.
And I look forward to watching this event recur again, and again.
June 3, 2012
Autismmommytherapist will return the week of 6/11 after a much-needed break. Thanks, and see you then!
June 1, 2012
It’s an absolutely gourgeous morning, perfect for celebrating Justin and his classmates’ feats of strength at his school’s annual Field Day, and I am thrilled to be there. In a matter of minutes my eldest son will come outside in a school-wide parade to kick off the event, one in which hopefully Justin will show as much enthusiasm to see us as he did last year, when this was all new to him. It turns out I needn’t have worried, because his slight smile of recognition is in evidence when he makes the turn near our table, and it is clear he knows what’s about to transpire. My mom and I wave gleefully at our boy as he proceeds back to his classroom to await the festivities, with one slight look backwards to make sure we’re still there.
I can assure you, we’re not going anywhere.
One of the things about having a child with moderate to severe autism is that sometimes there aren’t a great deal of ceremonies in which to celebrate their accomplishments, which is why this day means so much to me. Down the road of course there will be at least one graduation, and we’re considering enrolling him in equestrian Special Olympics in the future, but right now, Field Day is it.
The singularity of this recognition is not from lack of trying, but more from lack of interest on Justin’s part. We’ve attempted different types of sports through the Challenger program in our town, a league created to accommodate special needs children, but my son has remained immune to the charms of athletics. While I always want him to try new things, I also want him to enjoy participating in the events themselves.
I happen to think his childhood should be about him. I’m old school that way.
So today I’ll capture moments on film that hopefully depict an enthusiastic boy, one happy to belt a ball off a stand set strategically in front of him so that he’s ultimately successful. I will catch my son surprisingly amused by wearing Hawaiian garb as he conducts a three-legged race, and warm to the fact that he constantly looks behind him to make certain his mom’s and grandma’s eyes are only for him. For posterity, I’ll record the instant where my child kicks a ball with gusto into a goal, then looks incredibly bored by the undertaking.
He’s my boy after all. Sports are simply not his thing.
All in all, the day should have proceeded without incident, culminating in a barbecue in which I would predict correctly that my son would only enjoy consuming the carbs. The glitch came when there was a change in routine. It was a major one, an alteration which deviated greatly from last year’s event, when rain became an unwelcome guest who forced the staff to relocate the grilled goods into the confines of the school, and required parents to return after lunch to collect their kids.
This year we had sunshine falling benevolently around us as we consumed our hot dogs and hamburgers, and I wondered how this was all going to end. Due to the great weather this year’s Field Day would culminate in an award’s ceremony, one in which (in theory) Justin would be asked to wait on line with his classmates, ascend a stage, and happily receive his certificate of participation.
After nine years, with waiting still not being his forte, I admit I had my doubts.
True to form, as the last crumbs of white bread made their descent into my son’s stomach he rose, tried to locate a garbage receptacle (he cleans up beautifully after himself without prompting, one of the many things I love about him), and after failing in that endeavor simply plopped his plate back on the table. He then took my camera from me, placed it back in its case, grabbed my hand, and made off for the building adjacent to the one which houses his classroom.
Amidst queries by his aide and my mother of “Does he need to use the bathroom?” and “Is he taking you for a walk?” I inwardly laugh, because I know exactly what this kid is doing, and once again I am amazed at his retentive abilities. Despite having only done this once before it’s clear my son remembers the rules he and mommy must follow to leave the premises, and I comprehend completely why he is heading toward the building that houses the paper I must sign so that we can go home.
And now, the fun begins.
I share this information with the concerned adults around me, and tell Justin to sit down. I explain to him that he has to wait, and knowing it will be at least twenty minutes before his class convenes to accept their congratulations, I remind myself this will not be a relaxing interlude. I am correct in my assumption. And while his grandma gets him to dance for a bit, and his wonderful aide convinces him to sit on her lap for some time, it’s me he ends up with at that picnic bench.
I admit, ten minutes into my son reluctantly perched on my lap, some bruised shins (mine), and wondering if my spine will be permanently fused to that picnic table, I want to give in and call it a day. After all, he participated fully in each feat of strength. He was happy, and engaged in the day. He’s eaten chips and en entire hamburger bun. Up to this point for him, it’s been a win-win.
I look over at my mom after a particularly painful slam from his agitated rocking, and she says, “let him stay”. And while part of me would be happy to oblige with him on someone else’s lap, that annoying “mommy voice” that resides within many special needs parents kicks in, and tells me not to give in. The truth is, he’s getting bigger every day (thank to his dad, not me), and it’s harder to say “no” and stick to it. It would be so much easier to gather my crap and let him lead me to that rushed signature, the one that right now would signify both escape, and failure.
I look again at my mom’s face, and I know right then I’m not giving in to him.
Fifteen minutes and some soon-to-be-colorful spots on my legs later, it’s finally Justin’s turn. His aide leads him to line up in formation before the steps, and I watch as he reluctantly complies. Finally his name is called and he climbs the wooden slats to his reward, one which he regards quizzically, as I knew he would. He accepts my embrace and congratulations, then immediately leads me in the direction of freedom, and release.
I’ve already worked out a plan with his aide, so I blow a hurried kiss to my mom and ascend a new set of stairs. I smile to myself, because this is one more battle won, and it may not seem like a major accomplishment, but it is. There will be many more times he’ll be forced to remain in an environment he won’t find even the least be reinforcing. Some of these outings will occur with me and his teachers. Many more will happen in the decades when he will no longer be under my care, when he needs to understand the rhythm of need and compliance, the give and take of his desires versus the rules of those who will care for him. I needed to do this for him, to show him (for what feels like the millionth time) that once again, “no means no.”
I needed to do this for me.
And as we make our way into the parking lot, he with the ghost of a smile playing at his features and his hand tucked firmly in mine, I know with this particular event, both of us won.