I went on a field trip with Casey’s entire fourth grade today. To save money, the school has parents drive the kids. I had three extra kids with me who engaged with me and each other the entire drive. The fourth, my son, scripted in the back seat and refused to engage with anyone else in the car but me. The kids tried. They really did. He was somewhere else. I explained to the kids what he was doing and how cool it is that Casey can memorize things verbatim so quickly. They thought it was cool, too. My heart ached a little as we continued to talk about everything else, with Casey’s quiet scripting filled the spaces in between.
We got to the farm and went about doing scavenger hunts, talking about animals and nature, and playing games. Casey clung to me the entire time. When kids tried to engage him, he didn’t respond, even though he’s fully able. When no one picked him to be their partner time and time again, my heart broke. My frustration boiled up as teachers repeatedly tried to get him to make eye contact, and he would not. All of this time, I watched as the other adults chaperoning the trip talked and laughed with each other. My opportunity to make friends was being lost to having to be no more than five feet away from my son. My soul felt as though it was taking a beating over and over and over again.
With all of this building inside of me we went to do an egg relay. The rules were simple: carry an egg on a spoon to the other half of your team and hand it off. If your team broke two eggs, you would lose. The first one to get through all of the people on their team won. The teacher counted off numbers and one kid quickly turned a little red in the face as he said, “I don’t want to be on Casey’s team! There’s no way we’ll win. He’ll get all crazy and drop the eggs even before we get a turn. We’re going to lose.” I had to swallow a couple of times so I didn’t yell. Firm but calmly, I said, “That’s not very nice to say. How do you know that he’ll drop it? Give him a chance.” I was thinking, “You’re a jerk, kid. The minute I get a chance, I’m going to trip you.” We assembled the kids in their lines where I could see that the jerk kid was on the verge of tears. It only made me more mad. I dug what is left of my fingernails into my palms. A kid who had missed the instructions asked us what we were supposed to do. A couple of the kids piped up, and a thought came to me. I asked the jerk, “So, what’s the secret to this game? How do you win?” The kid’s eyes lit up as he explained to all of us how if you go slow rather than trying to run, you’ll win because you won’t drop the egg and have to go back. He said, “Casey, did you hear that? It’s easy. Let me show you.”
The kid really wanted to win and was justifiably worried that Casey was going to get all crazy. Casey does get all crazy. While what the kid had said wasn’t nice, it also wasn’t wrong. My anger towards him didn’t help Casey at all. In fact, had I unleashed on the kid, it would have only harmed any hope of a relationship with Casey. I would have been yelling at the kid for me. Not for Casey. Casey didn’t care. The key was to help the kid see that there was a better approach. In it, I saw that there was a better approach to what had held me on the verge of tears most of the day.
On our way home from school, Casey leaned back and sighed, “This was the best day ever! I love you, Mom!” …Wait, what? It was? The entire time I thought Casey had just been trying to make it through. Trying to deal with the absolute sensory assault a farm full of fourth graders can be. Clinging to me because he was feeling the rejection of the other kids who had tired of trying to engage him. He didn’t look like he was enjoying it the way I had looked when I was feigning happiness throughout the day. He just was happy. The things that had chipped away at my insides were about me. My pain. He didn’t care to be with the kids. He was excited to just be with me. The entire time while I was worrying about how not socially-appropriate it was for him to want to hold my hand and hug me the entire time, he was just showing me how his insides were feeling. He was just being himself.
Casey doesn’t act like other kids. It makes me sad that he has such a hard time making friends. Most of the time though, it doesn’t bother Casey at all. He doesn’t need friends like I think he should. His self esteem and happiness isn’t wrapped up in what others think. His best day was one that was really hard for me. I was projecting on him what I was feeling, and failed to truly understand that he doesn’t think the way I do. I was approaching Casey’s autism through my own lens, and not seeing the world as he does. He’s made up from different stuff. Not better. Not worse. Just different. I complicate things that don’t need complication. My approach has been off.
It doesn’t mean that I’m not allowed to feel emotions of all kinds in relation to his autism. That is my reality. I do need to learn not to complicate things that don’t need to be complicated in his world. There are social skills that matter and that he needs to learn to the best of his ability. Being able to engage with other kids is one of those things, maintaining eye contact is not. But all of it needs to be approached in a way that benefits him, and doesn’t just make me feel better. My feelings, my reality, is mine only. His reality is his. He’s happy most of the time, and I don’t need to complicate that with things that will only frustrate him in the end.
I’m really pontificating here, aren’t I? I have these resolutions and no real way of getting there. I don’t know how to not feel sad when I see him rejected by his peers. I don’t know how to not be angry when kids are assholes to him, even if he doesn’t understand it. And I don’t know how to approach this in a way that works for him, because it seems like just when I have a handle on his autism, I’m opening the wrong damn door. I need to stop trying to rewrite the script for our lives that I should have just thrown the hell away when he was diagnosed. I don’t know how.
I need to let Casey lead a little. I need to observe instead of worry. Go with him to where he wants to go and just let him be who he wants to be. While we were counting the different types of dahlias, Casey popped out of the bushes like this (recreated) and said, “Look! I’m a flower!”