I’m sat in one of J’s groups (the best kind where parents sit and watch rather than having to join in, haha) and I’m watching with a huge grin on my face.
There are times where my son is just like the rest of the 3-4yr olds. They feed off each other don’t they? One starts to bounce and ‘tickle’ and the rest copy…J is the same, he’ll join in and laugh along with it. I’m laughing with another parent about how hyped up all the boys are today…J is one of them. He’s one of ‘the boys’ and belongs.
Then I notice the differences. The other children will stop, they’ll take the social cues that it’s finished and move on. J doesn’t get this. He’ll try and carry on running or jumping, and tickling and laughing with/at the child. Then he’ll either get told off (gently, they aren’t harsh on him), be upset that the child has got upset or he’ll then be set off into a sensory overload and will end up spinning and seeking vestibular feedback.
You can see a couple of parents looking, they don’t say anything but I can feel my back straighten, waiting for a comment. Then I stop myself and just smirk. Who cares…they don’t know how amazing it is to see J interacting with others.
He’s fine once he’s back on track and got it out his system. He’s very particular too. J knows how things are meant to be and so that’s the way it should be at all times. I watched him as he came off the equipment to rearrange the beanbags or sticks as they weren’t back in the right place. It doesn’t interfere with anyone else’s experience and he’s happy so it’s no problem.
The problem comes when he wants to arrange something or something isn’t like it’s ‘meant’ to be (sometimes this is just in his head), and the expectation is he’s meant to be joining in group time or it’s meant to be different today, or someone else is using it. He can’t just ‘make it right’ so he’ll get upset or he’ll just lose focus which leads to being told off again or missing out on the activity as he’s back in his own world.
It’s frustrating but not the end of the world.
Then I watch as he’s done for the session. He’s reached the end of his ability to be part of the social group and doing things not on his agenda. I can see the change in his face. There’s something about his eyes that looks different when he goes into his own world. It’s like a robot that tuned out, that’s not on our wave length. He’s perfectly fine. He’s happy in his bubble. I see him put his hands into his ‘spaceship’ positions and he moves them around to make them fly. He’s in his Star Wars world where he knows everything and controls everything. There’s set routines that he’s watched over and over on the tv so he’s ‘safe’ as it’s known.
I can hear him ‘hum’ the different Star Wars tunes. This is him ‘stimming’. It drowns out the noise around him and makes everything predictable. This is where he ‘looks different’. This is where you can see others looking. I used to wonder what they’re thinking. I try and get J’s autism into conversations so everyone knew that he’s not rude or naughty. But now a days, I’ve stopped caring. It’s not affecting their child, it’s not changing their world and it’s just an hour of our week.
Then I think, are they looking at him? Are they judging? I don’t actually know what they are thinking. They could be thinking how lovely his is, how far he’s come in this group. It could be positive. They might not even be thinking anything. I’m sure they’re thinking of their own child or organising their mental ‘to do’ list.
To me all I see is a happy boy, loving his life and that makes my heart sing. If your child is ‘different’ my biggest bit of advice is to stop worrying about what others think. Ask yourself ‘what’s the worst that can happen?’ and then ‘so what?’. Why is ‘different’ a negative thing? I love the saying ‘different not less’ because it’s true. Everyone is different:..different shape, size, skin tones, colour hair, personalities, quirks. It’s doesn’t make us any better or worse than anyone else. So embrace the differences in your child. Smile at their quirks and celebrate the things that make them happy.
It might take a while before you feel like you can relax and smile about it, but when it happens it’s worth it.