I was given a gift this week. A small gift. Not one that has any kind of monetary value at all, but it meant so much to me, and the thing is, it wasn’t meant for me at all. It was meant for Eli, but he can’t possibly grasp how special it was. I’ll start at the beginning.
Lauren had her first ever slumber party on Saturday. She had two friends from school (Bri and Shar) and of course, Cousin B. The girls came over on Saturday. I took them to play mini-golf Saturday afternoon, and Eli went with us. On Saturday evening Joe took him over to meme’s house to spend the night so that the girls could have the run of the place. Okay, let’s face it–we didn’t want to risk anything awkward in front of the girls. Eli doesn’t really see the importance of clothes, and frankly, I figured all the noise would drive him crazy. In fact, I tried to get Lela to go as well, but she insisted on going to Lauren’s party.
The girls arrived at around 1:00, and they immediately retreated to Lauren’s room. Eli resumed his Transformers video game marathon. Lela made herself at home with the girls, and Noah didn’t seem to notice our guests at all. Hmmmm…this won’t be so bad….
An hour and half later, the house was a flurry of activity. The girls were scrambling to choose outfits for our outing. We went to Gloputz, which is a glow-in-the-dark, black light lit locale. There was a mad scramble for white shirts. The girls emerged, wearing each others clothes, and giggling like crazy. Eli made a couple of awkward comments that we had to correct him on, but the girls largely ignored him. Bri is a member of the “teacher’s kid” club, so she hangs out with Eli and Lauren after school. Shar also knows him, so they were okay and patient with him.
In the van, Lela insisted that Bri ride next to her. Lauren and Shar climbed in the back, and Eli sat up front next to me. People who have kids with autism probably know what’s coming. For those who don’t, you should know something. Riding in cars is hard. Eli can’t ride without stimming. He basically has two options–lie down on the seat and stare straight ahead, or sit up and stim–a lot.
Eli requires a LOT of vestibular input (that’s motion for those who don’t know). On a normal day, he spins as he walks, he jumps up and down a lot, he cuts flips across the room for no reason. Riding in cars messes with him in a big way. He says it makes him very sick. So, to cope with that he uses stimming to regulate. He rides sitting on his knees, and sometimes he curls forward to touch his head to his knees. He covers his ears, and I asked him once why–his response–”I’m listening to myself.” Okay.
When he’s not “listening to himself” he flaps his hands madly. I’ve mentioned before that Eli isn’t really a handflapper. This is the one exception. His hands are always going in the car. He also rocks back and forth. On really bad days at school, he insists on riding in one of the babies’ car seats because he craves/needs the pressure of being buckled in.
Now, this behavior is so normal for us that I don’t even notice it anymore. That’s just Eli. Unfortunately, I hadn’t considered what Lauren’s friends would think of this activity. Luckily, they didn’t seem to notice. They didn’t comment on it at all.
Golf was great. The kids had fun. I loved trying to teach Lela how to hold a golf club. She really sucked at it, and a couple of times, I saw her nudge her ball into the hole with her foot. I didn’t tell on her. We left, and Eli roamed away from us, following birds as we walked back to the van, but we eventually made it back to the van. It was on the way home that things fell apart.
I keep forgetting how quickly things can change. That even though Eli functions on a much better level than he did three years ago, he is and will always be on the spectrum. Eli, who had been accepting of different people in the house, excited about an outing, and generally well-behaved, had had enough. He just doesn’t cope well with change. He can’t. So, on the way home, all he wanted was peace and quiet. Peace and quiet in a car with six females. Yeah.
He yelled at the girls to be quiet. Then he tried “stop talking.” It escalated to him screaming SHUT UP!!!!!!! The girls payed him no mind. They did lower their voices, but they continued to giggle and talk. What I failed to realize was the undercurrent that was going on. Eli had completely misinterpreted the situation. His hands were clenching the leg of his pants, his nails digging into his upper thighs, his teeth gritted, when Bri leaned forward. I heard her speaking softly to Eli. I didn’t catch everything she said, but I distinctly heard….not being mean.
Ah. Eli thought they were laughing at him. I didn’t get that. But Bri did. And she was trying to reassure him. Then I was struck by another realization. The girls were not oblivious. They were quite aware of Eli’s differences, but they were treating him like they would any other ten year old boy. They were just ignoring his oddities, and treating him like just another kid. They did it so well, that I thought they just hadn’t noticed his peculiarities.
And that, my friends, was the gift. Acceptance. Understanding. Patience. Not a single girl complained about Eli yelling. But even better–not a single girl treated Eli with kid gloves or mistrust or fear. They just accepted him.
And Bri, sweet girl, she is a shining example of the way I want the world to treat my kids. Recognize the differences, accommodate them, be compassionate, but accept them for who they are.