Saturday, September 4, 2010

Gently does it...

I just need to take a moment and reinforce the power of a gentle approach to a life that has autism in it... actually in relation to any kind of life.

When wonderful friends generously introduced me to the Australian state of Tasmania almost two decades ago, I was introduced to the idea of leaving nothing but shallow footprints behind as you journey through life. I loved the idea, as much for the liberating concept that I could be quiet and active at the same time, as for all the good environmental reasons.

Flash forward to a few years ago, when my parenting journey began, and...low and behold, as we grew to know and love our beautiful boy, the desire to journey gently became stronger and stronger.

There was a lot of pressure to fast track him through development he was clearly struggling with... from in-laws, and siblings, and medical professionals and early educators. A lot of statements like, 'He'll have to get used to it sometime' and 'He's just a child, you're the adult' ring in my ears, still.

It never seemed right. And I know I am a total softy. I am the one who rotated the position of my stuffed animal collection as a kid because I was worried individual teddies would feel less valued than the others. I get it. It's not altogether conducive to success in the 21st century. But... I still think it's right.

This week, despite some seriously challenging behaviour at school (complete refusal to join the class during inside time, and destruction of other kids' property), Billy also scored some serious goals.

My favourite one involved his friend (the movie going mate from a couple of weeks ago). We've been to his house, we've all been to the cinema, and on Friday this week, this boy was adamant it was time for a return playdate at our house. Billy's not a big fan of visitors, so my hopes were not high.

We drove home from school with Billy's friend in the car. This, as many autism parents will attest, is an achievement in itself. People do not ride in the car with us. If you are not living an autistic life, you will think I am crazy accepting that, but if you do... then you get it, I am almost sure.

The two boys sat in the back competing to see who could make the most realistic fart sound (with their mouths, thankfully. It's still winter here, so opening the windows would have been challenging... never mind that in Billy's world, we do not open car windows).

At our house, they ate gluten free/dairy free (Billy's friend comes from an allergy house) snacks and drank rice milk. Billy's never touched the rice milk I have offered in the past, but once his friend asked for it, it was instantly cool.  They played with trains, jumped on the trampoline and played with the dog. There were no tantrums, no meltdowns and only a couple of snatched toys and sad moments (they came when it was time to go home, and seeing as how Billy was already home... they weren't his).


I need to remind you that Billy will turn seven in November. He's practically an adolescent. He's not experienced in this play-date game, because we have taken a gentle approach. Rather than force him to do the things that the 'other kids' were doing, we let him find his way. We waited until he was able to follow in the footsteps of the other kids... not just the random, amorphous, mob of 'kids' but the individuals that he has grown to trust.

It's meant a lot of disenfranchised Mummy moments, where I've watched Billy's peers joining sporting teams, taking dance classes and disappearing from their families on shared camps and holidays. It's meant a dire lack of couple time for the Silent Partner and I. It's meant I haven't seen a grown ups movie or had a decent haircut in waaaaay too long.

But as I watched my boy race scooters up and down our driveway with his friend, reveling in the statement, 'We're best friends, aren't we Billy?'... my split ends and lack of over-salted popcorn don't seem like such a big deal.

It's not that acceptance is my goal for Billy or for me. I could seriously care less about either of us 'fitting in'. It's the joy in the faces of Billy and his friend, as they play, that I cherish. It's the honest connection that two kids have, that has ongoing meaning to me. It's the genuine desire to have a friend come over and play that (despite all predictions) does exist in Billy, that gives me hope.

Billy's friend shared an interesting insight during the playdate. He admitted that he'd been frightened of Billy at the beginning. But he decided to listen to Billy, then talk to Billy and before long he realised he couldn't stop talking to him. Billy was quite surprised that anyone could be frightened of him, but his buddy's response was... 'You're pretty different Billy, but that's why I like you...'

How much better a world could it be, if more people adopted that philosophy?

The interesting thing for me is that, had we expected Billy to conform at an earlier age, he wouldn't necessarily have retained his difference. He may well be a little more 'normal' (whatever that is) but the quirky, funny, Billy-ness may not have been so apparent. He may have been a little more predictable, but the fact that he allows his peers to overcome their fears of autism and autistic behaviours... well, I can't help thinking it makes the world a little less nasty.

Maybe the autistic tendency toward toe walking reflects my desire to leave less destructive footprints. Or maybe it's the true spirit of my son and so many like him, that personifies the gentle-man/woman journey I aspired to in my own youth.

Or... maybe I'm just excited to be a 'normal' mummy for once.

Either way, the world's a tiny bit more balanced today, and for that, I am very grateful.


Anonymous said...

aarrr I still have those saying ringing in my ears too Val!! along with a few more, like "I thought it was because you say NO to him and discipline him" OMG people can be horrid at times!

So happy Billy is making leaps and bounds with his social interaction :)

Mama Deb said...

Oh, wow. Oh, wow. This is SO HUGE!
I loved reading this, but I especially loved reading what that little boy said about Billy being different. What an amazing 7-year-old to have been able to confidently articulated such deep thoughts. Too bad there aren't more kids like him.
I'm thrilled for both you and Billy.

Caitlin Wray said...

Excellent post!! So much of this resonated with me. Billy is growing when and how he is meant to - when all is said and done, that's really what our job as parents is.

If I weren't on the opposite side of the planet I would totally take you to a grown up movie tonight :)


Ro said...

Ignore the pushy people and go with your gut instincts - at the end of the day you're Billy's mum and they're just looking at him as another box to tick.
I'm thinking you have a more vested interest than them any day of the week ;)
Yay on the play date!!
That is Awesome!

K- floortime lite mama said...

I have so much to say in this post
But one thing most of all
I am so glad I found your blog !!!