Thursday, June 9, 2011

An empty vessel...

When I was a kid (frightened about what this blog post holds?) a teacher said in an attempt to discipline our class, 'Remember, an empty vessel makes the most noise.'

It stuck with me. It seemed then, as now, a powerful metaphor.

If you have no substance, you draw more unnecessary attention to yourself, than you would if you are credible. If you mean nothing, you stand out.

This made a lot of sense today, when I watched my boy behave in a way that parents dream of. Sorry about the preposition at the end of the sentence, but I can't work out the rearrangement...

Today, we had to take Billy to a meeting. It was about him, but it was not ideal that he was there. We had no choice but to bring him, if we both wanted to be present. He had to sit on the 65th floor of a city building, while we hashed out information that required actual focus, and he had to be quiet while we did it.

And he managed it. He managed it with style.

The interesting thing about his behaviour is that it is not what people would necessarily expect of a boy with autism. The generally accepted view is that a 7 year old boy with autism would be unable to focus, remain quiet, understand the need to subject himself to the needs of those around him. Many, many 7 year olds of all kinds could easily find themselves struggling with these things.

But Billy did not. Generally, Billy does not. He is calm and quiet. Unless someone coughs, sneezes, screams or cries. Or barks (generally unlikely to happen on the 65th floor of a city building, thankfully).

His behaviour today made us think about how he is viewed in the world when we are not around. He does not act out. He does not strike out. If anything confronts him, he internalises it. He withdraws, he internalises, he shuts down.

In NT terms, this is ideal. He is not a problematic member of a class. He is a dream. He doesn't make a fuss. He doesn't interrupt. He does not cause trouble. He's easy. In Billy terms, it is not ideal. It takes a toll, physically, mentally and emotionally.

The best metaphor we can find is the fuel tank.

The more Billy encounters in terms of noise, light, movement, sensory input in general. The more noise, light, movement... the fuller the tank gets. At some point, the tank will be full. Then his behaviour changes, drastically. He loses control, he reacts without regard for anyone except himself. This means potential destruction, disruption, devastation.

We have spent his life helping him understand what to do to avoid that change. Through hours and hours (years and years) of therapy, through modelling behaviour, through discussion, through research... we have helped him build the tools to manage his own, disordered fuel tank. It hasn't been easy, because it's not what we experience. It has meant slowing down, observing and re-ordering our own understandings.

To watch him today, rolling with the demands of an entirely new situation (albeit a fairly quiet and controlled situation) was inspiring. To know that so many people read his outward behaviour as a simple expression of his internal life, is depressing.

He does not make noise. He is not empty. He takes hits that most people don't notice. He handles assaults that would make most people recoil. Yet, he is carrying, within him, a fullness and a depth that most of us can only dream of. There's that preposition mistake again.

Today, as most days, I take my hat off to my little boy. He teaches me how to be. He reminds me that the general community have no idea. He teaches me to think before I judge anyone's behaviour. He makes me proud.

And that's more than I every dreamed could be possible.

And more stress over the preposition than I knew I could handle.


Anonymous said...

Just when we think we know them... they amaze and astound us!

:) :) :) :) :) that it all went well.

Di said...

What an awesome kid! :)

Dana Meijler said...

Way to go Billy!

That's the thing about our kids, they are still waters that run deep, deep, deep!