Friday, December 30, 2011

What I want...

Billy and I spent the afternoon with one of his old classmates. In true Australian summer fashion, a few more kids from his school dropped around as well. The sun was shining, the screens were turned off and the pool was glittering (though arcticly-cold... a whole other atypically Australian summer story).

For us (OK, for me), these are glory days, magic times when the schedule is soft and flexible. I can drink a little too much coffee, and talk to other mothers. Billy can be himself outside of the safety of home. Both of us can revel in the fact that he is, above all, an 8 year old boy on his long summer holidays.

The other families we met at Billy's old school are truly second to none. Smart, funny, accepting people who continue to welcome us into their lives even though we have spent a whole school year apart. The adults are the kind of folk teenage me hoped to be have as grown up friends, and the kids are beautiful centred human beings with passions and talents they love to share. I know we throw the word around a bit too much these days, but truly... in terms of these people, we are blessed.

The chance to sit and talk about the things 8 years olds do (swing from being 16 one minute to being 4 the next, find beauty in simple things, suddenly decide they can take on a huge dangerous challenge without consultation with taller folk) is a gift, to me.

It works way better for Billy to have maximum non-social space when he's in learning mode, but home schooling isolates us a bit in this regard. Even though we try to fit in a lot of playdates, there's nothing like that schoolyard for affirming, non-judgemental comparison. It's not like I definitively mark Billy's or my success and development against anyone else, but a bit of kid-focussed benchmarking is a great leveller.

It's nice to know that other boys suddenly think they know everything and get anxious when they realise they don't. It's awesome to see other kids' skills often sit in a different place than their bravado lets on. It's lovely to watch other almost tweens yawn and hug their mothers at the end of a long swimmy afternoon.

In autism world, it is very easy to pin everything on autism. I know Billy is always going to see the world differently to his NT peers, and he's going to gather skills and process experiences in a unique way too. At the same time, there's an 8 year old boy in there.

While the others leapt and swam like penguins, Billy sat on the edge, scripted Spongebob and watched, clearly plotting the time in the near future when he would try out their tricks. The other kids grazed on fruit and biscuits, and Billy sat on the edge, jerked his arms and watched, noting which foods were eaten enthusiastically and which were the snack wallflowers. He takes these social occasions, in the same way he takes a lot of his life these days - as an active, reactive and charmingly unusual observer. You can practically hear the cogs turning, processing, sifting through the possible and the preferred, rejecting the loud, the close and the bright. He needs a ton of McDonalds fries as bribes to attend these events, but he gets a lot out of the experience (if it come in measured doses).

I absolutely, positively, definitively do not believe the ultimate aim for Billy is to be as NT as possible. In fact, I think the opposite. I think if he can be free to be himself he has the best possible chance of living a happy, productive adult life. But the terms of his future will be dictated by the NT world, by people I do not know now and maybe will never get the opportunity to brief on all things Billy.

I do hope, that in every phase of his life, he has the most possible options on the table - just like his peers.

I know we are fortunate that this current peer group welcome Billy and I. We are a different package, for sure, in so many ways. I try to give as much as we receive, in what ever way we can, but really it's hard to quantify the exchange. Without turning my kid into a sideshow amusement, I want people to know how much their friendship means to him.

This afternoon is, in a nutshell, what I want for Billy's future.

I hope that people will accept him. I hope that acceptance comes not from his ability to achieve some proximity to 'normal', but from an equal transaction. He is here, you are here. Together, you connect or not as needs demand. It's not going to be exactly the same social transaction that most people effortlessly exchange multiple times an hour, but I hope it can be as equal a transaction, nonetheless.

Give-Take. Connect-Disconnect. Notice the difference-Still give/take, connect/disconnect.

I see now that he challenges his peers with his staunch desire to not be freaked out at every turn. I see that his peers are thinking, 'I'm just asking him a question and he's walking away, what the?' I also see that the longer we know these peers, the more flexible they have become at making themselves heard by Billy's ears (or assessing the exchange is not that important after all and happily moving on to other things).

I want the future to be full of these kids. I want these kids, as adults, to know that should Billy ignore them (and the communication is important), they should try to ask a new way. I want these kids to retain their acceptance and their lack of judgement. I want them to grow up knowing that making an effort with Billy is worth it. I want them to avoid falling into the shallow pit of fatuousness that says anyone who is different is automatically stupid and open for derision (or worse).

I want, more than anything, for these kids to grow up not frightened of Billy or anyone different to them.

Failing that, I want a lifetime lease on a giant island full of African animals, trains and the odd video game. And a nice granny annexe with high speed internet.

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