Tag: inclusion

Sensory-friendly performances: The good, the bad, the happy medium

Sensory-friendly performances: The good, the bad, the happy medium

I’m about to say something that might seem to go against the grain, but I’m going to say it anyway.

Sensory-friendly performances aren’t inclusive.

There.  Feel better?  Me too.

Here’s why I feel this way.

When a play or a movie or, well, really anything goes about its normal business, things are likely to be loud, bright, overwhelming, and busy.  We can certainly acknowledge that this can feel downright volatile to anyone with “different” sensory needs.

I feel like organizations are SO hellbent to provide “autism friendly” or “sensory friendly” experiences that they forget one vital fact: This doesn’t provide inclusion, it provides a way for those with sensory needs to experience the thing separate from everyone else.  And that, my lovelies, is exclusion.

I’m gonna tiptoe out on a limb here, but what if – gasp – every performance or every day was sensory friendly?  Who would that harm?

What if places with sensory rooms at certain times (only during specific events) had those spaces (like a room to calm and regroup) ALL the time?  And why have they not done that yet?

Look, I want my kids to go to this thing or that thing just as much as anyone else.  And when we see a “sensory friendly” showing of something I do smile.  At first.  And then I realize that my kids won’t experience the thing along with their neurotypical peers.  They will get to share it with other kids like them, but they would get to do that organically if sensory friendly was just a THING that we could find any day of the week.

So why can’t we?

People/companies seem to think it’s out of reach.  Or maybe they think that one performance out of 20 that is done as sensory friendly is sufficient.

I can tell you right now, it’s not.

The art of inclusive play

Yesterday I was very fortunate to be able to attend a conference held at SUNY Cortland about inclusive play.  My colleague and I heard from speakers about building accessible playgrounds which meet the needs of people with disabilities as well as those without, and the importance of having two groups of people with really very different needs be able to play- not just side-by-side, but actually together.

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Seriously, why is my head so gigantic?

The first speakers were from an organization called Shane’s Inspiration, and I think I’m in love with their mission and their vision:
“Our vision is to foster a bias-free world for children with disabilities.  Our mission is to create inclusive playgrounds and programs that unite children of all abilities.” (taken from their website)

They don’t just create the playgrounds, they offer programs with schools so that kids without disabilities can be paired up with kids who are different from them, kids who may play very differently than they play. There is a whole curriculum around inclusive play that can be used by schools, daycare programs, even summer camps.  Why?  Because every facility out there should have a way for inclusive play to happen.  Because sometimes we need help with the “how” of it all.

In speaking with one of the presenters later, she said “I hope that one day I’ll be out of a job”.  One day, kids may not need special programs to help them buddy up with kids with disabilities in order that they may learn that there are more similarities than differences, and to not be afraid of those differences.

Okay, so I also maybe geeked out a little (a LOT) when I met the Yogibo lady (a.k.a. my new BFF Amber).

If we’ve met, I’ve probably told you about Yogibo I My children have two of the stuffed animals at our house, and the Autism Lending Library that I run has a couple.  I’d love to fill the room with their products, and yesterday I met the manager for one of their local-ish stores.  I gave her the library’s flyer (which shows our sensory room) and my card, and invited her and her team to visit the library and learn more about what we do.

 

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Yogibo Hug (I didn’t hug Amber, but I wanted to)

We then were invited to tour the SIMS Lab (Sensory Integration/Motor Sensory).  I immediately began concocting ways that we can have something like this in our community, and thought of the Occupational Therapy Department at one of our universities.  As the boys are attending a group there once a week, you can bet your bippy I’ll be asking if they’ve considered setting up a similar facility.

One of the first things that struck me was that when kids come to the Lab, they get to select their preferred lighting.  Lighting makes a big difference for many of us with extra sensory needs, and that impressed me.  The place was full of gym mats and Yogibo beanbags, a zip line that leads to a suspended ball pit (!!) and all manner of things to climb, things to toss, things to land onto.  I mean, come ON.  How cool is that? Being able to access a place like this and get all the sensory input one needs in order to be able to better self-regulate is so important, and this Lab is providing that for kids.

I also met a woman who is working on the changes to a local (and very NOT inclusive, currently) playground.  There is this presumption sometimes that the way to make things inclusive is to simply stick a ramp on things.  Um, no.  There is so much more than that.  You must consider the gamut of disabilities, and which types of equipment might provide something that may be needed by someone with those disabilities.  We talked at length about what they might provide to assist kids for whom the wide open space and the very large concept of PLAY might be disregulating.  They hadn’t thought of that, and I hope we’ll be talking more as they continue to develop their designs.

So here’s my homework for you: go to a local park with a playground.  Try to put yourself in the shoes of someone with a disability- that can be anything from being blind to being in a wheelchair, being hypersensitive to being hyposensitive, having trouble navigating even the seemingly smallest hurdle to having trouble navigating a social situation such as the playground.  Look at it through these lenses, and see what could be different.  And then work with the community to create change.

I would like to thank SUNY Cortland for offering families and professionals an opportunity to come together to learn about inclusive play, adaptive physical education, the use of technology, and music therapy programming.  

Meeting Temple Grandin

Meeting Temple Grandin

This past week I was fortunate enough to attend a conference where the speakers included none other than Dr. Temple Grandin, as well as Britt Collins (an amazing OT) and Joanne Lara, executive director of the organization Autism Works Now.
As an autism parent and someone who works in the business of helping people with disabilities, as well as someone who self-identifies as being somewhere on the spectrum, I have been anticipating an opportunity such as this for some time now.

When I arrived at the hotel where the conference was being held, I looked around for some signs of where to go next. As I looked to my left towards the in-lobby Starbucks (I really needed coffee), I saw her trademark western rodeo-style shirt. Temple Grandin.

If you know me personally, you may know that I can get a *little* star-struck. I walked up to the counter to order my coffee and found myself standing immediately to Dr. Grandin’s right side. Do I talk to her? No, she’s having a conversation with someone. Get it together, kid, you’re acting weird. Just order your coffee and pretend that you’re a functioning adult.

I followed my internal dialogue’s advice and ordered my coffee. I *may* have stared a little too much at Dr. Grandin, because a couple of times she turned slightly to look at me. Oops. Social graces are not always my strong suit.

I made it around to the space reserved for this event and found a long table covered with easily 100 different book titles. Many of these titles are already available in the Autism Lending Library that I manage, some were new to me. At the far end was Dr. Grandin, standing next to the many different books which she has written throughout her career. People were already gathering, and she was speaking with each of them individually. “Are you a parent or a teacher?”, she’d ask. Depending on the answers, she would carry on the conversation with questions about ages of children, different personal interests, and whether they worked with people who are autistic who have held jobs.

I found a book which I did not have in the library, and for which she’d written the foreword. I waited my turn and quietly asked if she’d mind signing it. I was holding back tears and a large lump in my throat as I did this. The moment that I’d been waiting for was actually happening right now, and I fought my impulse to ask her for a hug (I’m weird, but not that weird).

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I swallowed hard and asked for a selfie, and after the photo was taken I barely eeked out “thank you”.

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holy mackerel, I’m standing RIGHT next to Temple Grandin.  Is this for real??
She autographed books and stood for photos with literally hundreds of people as she listened to their stories.

At almost seventy years old, she’s had a lifetime to figure out what she can and cannot handle. I was pleased and impressed when she would comment that she was quite used to this if someone asked if it was too much.

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By now I’d moved on to other tables to find a large array of sensory items. Given that I manage a lending library that includes many of the items shown, I was happy to take a business card and sign up for the mailing list. I was very excited to see the same noise-canceling headphones that Speedy used at school, and quickly bought them.

I found a booth for an agency called Transitions which helps teens and young adults with the often rather abrupt transition to college. I thought of my now 16 year-old who may indeed have this struggle, and I spoke with a young woman who I think is likely autistic about this program and who they support. I was pleased to learn as much as possible about this program, because often I am asked by providers about available services in New York State.

When the conference actually started, I sat in the back of the very large room and tried to take in the sheer magnitude of it all. Noise filled the space as attendees trickled in, and soon it was almost unbearable. Eventually someone approached the podium and announced the start. He warmly introduced Dr. Grandin to the room, and showed a short film that included clips from the movie which carries her name. I’ll admit that I have not yet watched it, and typically we avoid films about autistic people because we live this. It’s hard to watch, to be frank. But after seeing this short set of clips intermixed with interviews with the stars of the film, I think I’ll be more comfortable watching it.

The hair on my arms stood on end as the gentleman introduced her finally, and every person in the room who could stand, did. I got choked up and realized that this amazing woman has spent her life talking about what it’s like for her, and that people are drawn to her story in such a way that a feature film about her life was made.

She said many things which did not surprise me: bring back art and shop and home economics to schools. Kids should work when it’s legal to do so, in whatever way speaks to their personal strengths. Parents must give kids the chance to TRY something, everything, rather than helicopter them. Presume competence, and support people in their strengths rather than fixate on deficits.

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Um, yeah. All of that.

I could go on for days, I really could. What I really want to say here is this: I know that there are people out there, particularly some adults on the autism spectrum, who have been angry about her messages about getting out and working. The impression I’ve gotten is that there are some who feel that her message ignores those who are not able to work for a variety of reasons.  I can’t speak to how each of you have taken her words, but I do wonder how many have gone to see her speak. Perhaps we just won’t agree. But I do feel that people should be able to work for a living doing something they love, regardless of ability, if that’s what they want to do. I feel that those who cannot work should still be supported doing something that they love, in whatever way they can do the thing that they enjoy.  She wants people to be included, not secluded, and in a way that meets them where they are.

The other speakers were absolutely important to the message of the day, and I would like to dedicate separate blog posts to them. I gained a LOT of knowledge from the speakers of the day, especially Britt Collins.  I will be writing about her because I’ve been putting in to practice some of her ideas in the past few days, and they’re working.  Can you say broccoli?  Or shrimp?  Yeah, WonderBoy tried both in the last two days.  Her work deserves a LOT of attention.

I will apologize for the quality of the photos.  I was using my phone and zooming all the way in… now we can see the downside to sitting in the back of the room!

Making friends

Making friends

When my youngest son was first diagnosed with ASD, I wasn’t sure what to think.  My husband and I tend to think rather clinically, and had done a lot of research, but there a great many unknowns.  What your child does (or does not do) right now isn’t an indicator of what they’ll do in a month, six months, a year, ten years.

One thing I was sure of when he went to preschool was that he was not making friends in the way typically-developing children do.  He didn’t really form any connections to other kids until just before he transitioned to Kindergarten, and even then it was more like he really looked up to the other child.

Recently we went to a cookout at the house of a family we’ve known for years.  Our kids have played together on and off all summer, every summer.  And up until this past weekend, WonderBoy hadn’t really connected with them. What happened took my breath away.

I’m not even going to apologize for this barrage of photos.  It all started with this moment:

 

 

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As the late afternoon hours went on, and the color of the sunlight changed gradually, we began to realize that the two had not parted ways for even one moment….

 

And as everyone gathered to eat, it continued on…

And on…

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And although we gave him many warnings when it came time to head home at the end of the night, he sobbed in his grief that he must leave his new friend.  The following day he asked for her by name.  Yesterday he asked me if I’d call her mother.  The boy has found someone he connected with.

Now it just so happens that she is the same chronological age as his developmental age.  Perhaps there is something to that, I do not know.  What I do know is that he has broken every Rule of Autism* so far.  Like his parents, he defies anyone and anything that says “you can’t”.  And that is really “au”some.

These photos were shared with the permission of the parents of the girl who WB bonded with. They’re an incredible family who is full of love and whose children know the true meaning of friendship. Because of the welcoming nature of their parents, these are kids who will grow up understanding how to be accepting.

 

COMMUNITY CONNECTIONS ARE KEY

I originally wrote this back in January, but as my blog has moved here, I didn’t want to forget this.  This day absolutely changed me in so many ways…

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(image shows the Cornell University hockey team with Franziska Racker Centers’ Executive Director Dan Brown)

“We envision a world where all people know they belong.

This is the vision of the agency where I work.  It’s not just our vision, it is my personal mission and a goal for the people who I work with every day.  And it needs to be your personal mission as well.

You now have one job: go out into the community and get to know someone with a disability.  Talk to someone who is different from you.  Include people with differences in your life, in your activities.  And take part in theirs. This should be the job of every single person in this room, no excuses.”

These are the words I spoke to the 28 members of the Cornell Hockey team at the end of their recent visit.  We have a great relationship with this team and with our community, and we wanted these young men to have a chance to visit the pre-K classrooms where kids from ages 3-5 learn together.  The classrooms are integrated classrooms, which means that children who have disabilities work and learn and play side-by-side with children who are typically developing.

When I first met this group, all they were told about me was that I had a son who is autistic and who went to this school.  All I knew about them is that they are students who play hockey, and that maybe one or two were willing to speak up and mention someone they knew with a disability.

As we walked down the hall toward the class, one of the guys mentioned that he had visited this past summer on a day when the Cornell Companion therapy animals were there.  “Guys, seriously.  They had a LLAMA.” was his main comment, and this was met by disbelief and some laughter.  I put on my tour guide persona (a.k.a. I walked backwards while talking to the group behind me) and launched into my “why this school is so awesome and by the way there’s a llama” speech.  It goes a little something like this:
“This school is incredible- really! When my son first came here, he didn’t speak yet, he didn’t play with other kids.  He was scared of the swings, and really would just hum to himself and play alone.  And through his daily therapies here, including occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech therapy, he blossomed.  Oh- and once a week they get a visit from therapy animals, including the coolest llama ever!”

By the end of this well-rehearsed speech, we had reached the class.  The teacher- my son’s former teacher and my personal hero- stepped out to prepare the guys for how to handle certain situations.  The thing to know is that some of the kids in the class are still figuring out where they are in relation to the rest of the world.  And sometimes they can be too rough or a little up-close-and-personal.
After introductions were made, we all went to the gym.

For thirty minutes, I watched pure magic happen.

One boy hopped on a tricycle, shouting “you can’t catch me!”.  Immediately, the seemingly tallest member of the hockey team grabbed another trike and contorted his six feet or so of body onto this child’s toy.  And he couldn’t catch that boy after all, but he sure tried!

One girl grabbed the hand of a team member and dragged him over to the play structure.

Two little boys grabbed a giant inflated ball and proceeded to drag their new friends to the basketball hoop.

And several children who rarely approach anyone gradually moved in close to ask the name of one young man.

Magic.

To witness all of this was… moving to say the least.  I dreaded telling them when time was up, and hugs were shared from the guys in my group to these amazing children. As we left the room and walked back down the hall, I asked them this: “So! Who’s ready to start working with children in special education?”, which was met with a delightful chorus of “ME!” from all of them.  ALL of them.  post 14a

April only comes once per year. What next?

April only comes once per year. What next?

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(Image is a handprint, with each of the four fingers shown in a different color. The words on the fingers read: “love”, “awareness”, “acceptance”, “knowledge”, and “support”.  The word across the palm reads: “Autism”.)  This image is the property of the author, and should not be used without permission)
I do have a store on Zazzle with this image, and all commissions from the purchases are sent to the Autistic Self-Advocacy Networkhttps://www.zazzle.com/autismacceptance

​I’m having a hard time with this post, because I feel as though I have several points to make and while they are all connected, I don’t want any of them to be muddled by the others.

It’s April, and for families of people on the autism spectrum, things get a little more difficult.  It’s not because we don’t want awareness, but it’s more that what we really want is true change for the other 11 months of the year.

Blue lights won’t change the fact that society expects my children not to stim.
Blue lights won’t eliminate the barrage of sensory-overloading stuff that hits the boys and me every day.
Blue lights and awareness walks are NOT going to guarantee that my kids have services throughout their lives.
Blue lights, awareness walks, and puzzle piece logos are not going to ensure that my kids feel successful in their lives, nor will they guarantee employment opportunities or housing.
None of those things will guarantee that the local constabulary has any freaking concept of how to approach people on the autism spectrum or with other cognitive differences.
None of these things guarantee a life where my kids are understood by the world. And this branding of autism in a neat and tidy puzzle-piece-shaped package is certainly bound to drive fundraising efforts, but that is only a good thing if the funds which are being raised are actually going to advocacy and therapies and jobs programs.  A friend of mine did bring up a valid point, however.  The branding of something and the one-stop shopping of a website that many people have heard about and the awareness walks do bring the subject into the light for those who do not know what autism is or how it affects people. And this makes for an interesting introduction.  Five years ago, I had no idea what it was.  And while I might be vaguely aware of it had I not had children on the spectrum, I wouldn’t have really paid too much attention to the issues surrounding a lifelong difference from the rest of the world.

So where do we begin, in an effort to move past mere awareness and into understanding and- dare I dream- acceptance?

I have a few ideas on this matter.  I know you’re shocked by this…

Step 1) Find an alternative to the blue lights.  It negates the many girls and young women on the spectrum who go undiagnosed because autism presents differently in girls than it does in boys.  I’m not saying awareness is bad, but awareness only goes so far.  And when clinicians can’t even figure out how to diagnose girls with autism, then the blue lights are clearly sending the wrong message.

Step 2) Talk to people who are autistic about what they want, rather than making assumptions. The advice that follows below comes from a place of seeing what impacts my children and some of the people who I know, but I can’t speak for everyone.

Step 3) We need education for anyone working with the public- teach police officers, EMTs, teachers, civil servants in general what autism can look like, what is at the root of certain behaviors, and how to support people in the best possible way.

Step 4) Inclusion, inclusion, inclusion.  It matters how children see those who are different.  I am not in any way saying we should teach children to ignore differences, because that’s the wrong idea.  What I’m saying is that it has proven successful to have integrated classrooms, and that the integration benefits everyone.  Children who are neurotypical grow up seeing their peers as just that- peers. They don’t see them as “that kid who stays in the special ed room all day”. That’s how it was when I was a child, and kids are cruel to those they don’t understand. Actually, so are adults for that matter. The IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act) is currently under threat and we must fight to maintain rights for all students to an equal education.  I found some really positive information in this article about classroom inclusion.

Step 5) Did I mention inclusion?  Well, it needs to happen in the workplace as well.  Here’s the thing about people on the autism spectrum; many are good at repetitive tasks and at spotting minute differences in things.  It is common for people with autism to have something that they are passionate about, and they will put their whole being into studying that passion.  There are so many amazing qualities that fit incredibly well into many companies.  Fortunately, some of the larger corporations are starting to understand this, and are adopting programs for hiring people on the spectrum.

Step 6) I suppose this should be step one, actually… we as caregivers need to sit down, shut up, and let our loved ones be the tour guides.  They have a LOT to tell us, whether verbally, spelled out in fridge magnet letters, pointed to on a PECS board or typed out on a laptop.  They have a lot to show us about the world, about what they want from that world, and about what they are willing to accept.  Trust me when I tell you, my children are much better at telling me what they need than I give them credit for much of the time. It’s just that we, as all-knowing ADULTS have a wee tendency to decide we know better.  Sometimes that is true (look both ways before you cross the street to check for cars, etc), but other times we can actually get in our own way.  When we look at the “why” behind a behavior, rather than simply trying to put a stop to said behavior, things are going to go much more smoothly.  And while no blue light can guarantee that, I can.

Step 7) Public spaces have got to be more “friendly”.  By this I mean let’s take a long hard look at things like lighting, smells, number of people in a small space, weird sounds, and overall volume.  These are all things that can make a space utterly intolerable.

Step 8) How we interact matters.  Tell me something, Mister April is Autism Awareness Month, when you greet someone for the first time, do you put out your hand for a handshake and expect them to look you in the eye?  Are you wearing Axe body spray or heaven help me, Polo cologne?  Are you standing just too close or expecting the other person to use a quieter tone of voice when they say hello back to you?
Yeah.  You’re doing jack squat for being aware of anything beyond your bubble.  First of all, it really is cool to ask whether a handshake would be okay.  No, that cologne does not smell good, nor should you have used the scented shampoo, body wash, and deodorant to go along with it.  Please take two steps back, and yeah, I’m using my “outdoor” voice because if I’m autistic then chances are I may not have the same sense of volume that you do. I’m NOT going to make eye contact with you- that’s me talking now. Did I ever tell you about the boy who held my face still and forced me to make eye contact with him until I cried?  I was about 15 at the time and we were dating. I was forever altered by that interaction, and carry the emotional scar as a reminder of who I am and what I can or cannot do. And eye contact is very painful for me until I’ve had a chance to really sense who you are and what’s behind those eyes.

Okay.  That’s a lot of information.  Let’s take a step back and change tone for a moment.

I have to say that I’m incredibly thankful for some things.  First of all, that I have a partner who gets what I mean when I tell him that all of “this” is my fault.  He loves and supports me, with all of my oddness, and helps me to celebrate the great things too.
I have a job in an agency whose vision is a world where all people know they belong.  I mean, come ON, that’s awesome.
I run the Autism Lending Library which is pretty much my calling. And I get to help families find funding for the various equipment, recreational experiences, and basic needs that come along with raising someone with a developmental disability.
I have really incredible friends who keep telling me they want to keep learning about this stuff and who don’t say I’m crazy when I say I’m going to write a book.
Did I mention that I’m going to write a book? Apparently? In all my free time…
And more than anything, I’m thankful that even though organizations like Autism Speaks has a very very long way to go, they are starting to flip the script.  And if you know anything about raising someone autistic, you know the script is all there is some days.

LETTING OUR CHILDREN BE OUR TOUR GUIDES

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(Above is an image of five people at a table, all reaching one hand in for a “high five”)

Okay, so literally no IEP meeting ever in the history of IEP meetings looked like this image. But I digress…
​ (By the way: IEP= Individualized Education Plan)
Oh my, IEP day.  It’s almost as daunting as D-Day (diagnosis day), only we get to relive it every single year, with mid-year reviews just for fun.  Because who doesn’t love big scary meetings on a biannual basis? <this is sarcasm>

On this particular day, we were meeting with the chairperson for the Committee for Special Education (CSE), the autism specialist, the school’s principal, speech therapist, school psychologist, occupational therapist, OT assistant, special education teacher, physical therapist, and Wonder Boy’s teacher. Add myself and my husband to that mix and you’ve got one really full table.  That’s right- there were twelve of us at this meeting.

It’s really no wonder at all that parents and caregivers are completely overwhelmed by special education.

Let me start by saying that at every single one of these meetings (and we attend them for Speedy as well), I thank the team for being a part of Team Wonder Boy (and Team Speedy). This really sets the tone, and it means that his parents are the first to speak.  This is a power move, make no mistake about it.  I do this very deliberately, because I want the very first words to be positive.

Once all of the introductions have been made, which alone takes about 15 minutes because there are so many of us there, we hear first from the primary teacher.  We are then asked whether the things she is seeing in the classroom are a good reflection of the boy we know and love at home.  His teachers are incredible, and yes, the boy they see is the boy we know at home.

Next, each of the therapists and various other Highly Qualified Professionals reads from their notes about his progress and regressions, and we spend time discussing what his services should look like for the remainder of the school year.

Then the big news came: while his progress has been notable, he shows enough regression data (where they track how much he regresses during each school break) to qualify for a 12-month IEP.  Wait, what?
My jaw hit the floor.  I was truly not expecting to hear those words at all.
We were asked about the plans for the summer, and we explained that we’d found a great program for the boys for the summer.  A camp with a 3-1 ratio of kids to counselors, one which works on skill building and allowing kids with disabilities to be kids first and foremost.

This was an epiphany moment for me- I realized that there’s something all special needs parents have in common.  You learn, quite quickly, to protect your child’s services fiercely.  They’re not always easy to come by, and in some cases are hard won.  So when the CSE chair asks you whether you’re declining a service, you may be hard pressed to confirm.  It took me a good five minutes, and a LOT of prodding on behalf of the CSE chair, to actually say out loud that we would decline summer services through the school district.

Another discovery came of that meeting.  During the course of the meeting, the speech therapist talked about working with Wonder Boy on his social skills.  I came right out and said that unless they could produce a child with a strong interest in all things narrated by David Attenborough, he really wouldn’t be interested in a social life.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

It’s not easy for me to admit when I’m wrong, and I think that’s a fairly typical human trait.  We enjoy being right, especially about our own offspring.  I made an assumption that a lot of people do about autistic children- that they’re not interested in friendships.  And this one really shocked me, because it’s not like me to go so astray on something like connecting with other people.  But I did.  And thank goodness for a therapist with a poker face, she didn’t call me out on my assumption.
My correction came a week or two later, when we had all gone to the park.  Our two youngest boys were playing on the playground, and saw two children who were more or less the same ages.  And something really beautiful happened- Within seconds, Wonder Boy walked up to the kids and in a way that only our special kids can, shouted his name in the face of one of the kids.  He asked the name of the younger child, and then the boy’s older sister spent time teaching WB how to say her brother’s name.  After some time playing together on the playground, Wonder Boy sat down at the picnic table with the girl and asked her questions about herself.  He found out that she was a seven year old girl who had just moved into our neighborhood with her family.  He started the conversation with her, and the two of them chatted as though they were a couple of middle-aged coworkers who happened to run into each other in the supermarket.

Let me take a moment here.  HE started the conversation….
Wow.  It wasn’t at all that he wasn’t interested in socializing, rather that he needed to be given the freedom to do it in his own time.
I was speechless, and was reminded immediately of something that I talk with families about when they seek help at work.  These kids of ours are incredible tour guides.  We work hard to prepare them for the next stages, and we provide them with a whole rainbow of services, and at the end of the day they have the ability to completely shock us with what they DO with all that information.

The thing that I’m taking away from all of this, and I hope you will too, is that we must see the potential.  We must presume competence.  And lastly, we must believe in ourselves and our children.  They have beautiful things to teach us, if we just stop talking and let them.