Saturday, January 1, 2011
On the beachfront where we are staying, there's a funfair. It's one of those old fashioned travelling ones that goes where the people are and charges stupid amounts of money for very shabby looking fun.
Needless to say, Billy thinks it's brilliant.
Well, actually, not needless. Because for the last three years, we've come to the same beach, and the same funfair has appeared. We've driven past it, talked about it, stared at it through hotel windows, pretty much done everything but gone to it.
On New Years Eve, arguably the busiest night of the year, Billy made the call. It was time to go to the funfair. So, being the awesome parents we are (hah!) and having had a couple of pina coladas, we walked into flashing, non-digital, coloured light hell.
And... it wasn't so bad. That's a quote from Billy. High praise from a kid who hates anything that moves fast, makes surprise noise and does unpredictable things.
The first stop was a bouncy castle. It had a pair of giant slides on its back wall, with strange inflatable ladders. These ladders were high. Like three storeys high. It's worth adding here that Billy is not one of those brave, no sense of caution autistic kids. He's kind of the opposite. Risk is generally not his friend. He's more a consider-y kind of guy. Unless of course, there's something colourful and interesting on the other side of two lanes of traffic, then consideration goes out the window and, with an ungainly skip, he follows the lure of the shiny.
At the bouncy castle, we waited in line (minor miracle), and handed over five dollars worth of tickets to a man with some teeth missing, and some of the best child management skills I've ever seen in my life. This dude could teach Super Nanny a thing or two.
Billy was in there like a shot. Like the true sensory boy he is, he found a safe spot. But he didn't stay there long. From his primary coloured corner of the castle, he would venture out and get variously creamed by a big kid, chased by a little kid or taunted by one of the three storey ladders.
The child manager whistled loud after five minutes, and all the kids trooped off like a well trained drill team. And we joined the end of the line, to wait for another go.
Here comes the moment...
While we were waiting in line, for a second jump in the castle, Billy spotted another slide. A big slide. A hard slide - both in a non-inflatable sense, as well as a skill level sense. He hadn't managed to make it up more than 1/3 of the inflatable ladder on the castle, but he was determined he was going to do this one. With Daddy.
They climbed the stairs to the top, and there they stayed. Talking, bargaining, fussing with their hessian sliding bag... until they came back down again.
We re-joined the line for the bouncy castle, with Billy very subdued. I asked him if he was OK, and two giant tears slipped down his cheeks. He climbed up into my arms (have I mentioned he's as tall as your average 10 year old?... it wasn't elegant), and said, 'This feels awful.' I tried the speech all of you would have tried. You know the one - 'You did the right thing, Bud. It's great that you know your limits. You don't have to do anything you are not comfortable with...' But, he wasn't having a bar of it.
He fought back the tears, and said, 'I should do it. I can do it. I will do it.'
I'm just going to take a moment here and say that this is the first time Billy has ever reflected on his own behaviour like that. It's the first time he's been able to articulate seeing his behaviour in relation to what's going on around him. The first time he could say that he could see that his peers were able to do something that he couldn't.
And he didn't like it. Not one bit.
Back to the bouncy castle line, we talked some more, and he decided he would try the hard slide the next night (did I mention we were killing time between the kids fireworks and the midnight ones?). He dried his tears by the time he got to the top of the line and when he got the whistle from the castle sergeant-major, he was a bouncy demon. Well, a bouncy demon with a safe zone.
The next night, as it happened, the hard slide was closed. But the crowds were down and he managed to be the only one on the bouncy castle for about ten minutes. Play without kids, is learning without barriers to Billy. It took a few goes, but last night, Billy Judd climbed his inflatable Everest. Three storeys of odd looking ladder, three minutes of looking over the edge, and ten seconds of personal achievement flavoured sliding to the bottom.
It may not have been the hard slide, but it was the right slide. And he did it.
On the matter of the 'moment', the jury is out. I know it's a very normal developmental step to be taking - giving a crap about how you compare to the other kids. We've been protected from the brutality of peer pressure up until now, and that protection has felt pretty good to all of us. It's hard to play the comparison game with confidence, when your neurology makes you stick out like a very twitchy sore thumb.
But... it's done, and knowing Billy, that first learning journey will propel him into the ranks of those who know it deeply. Another great joy of the disordered journey of autism.
It's our last night on holidays tonight. We've got left over funfair tickets. I'm guessing the Road to Damascus might just lead us to the edge of another brightly lit precipice.
I just hope there's a safe zone close. For me.
Posted by Valerie Foley at 7:54 PM