Friday, April 27, 2018

Autism Answer: About Last Night


I made myself a peppermint tea (shhh! don't tell coffee) in my favorite to-go mug, kissed my exhausted hard working hubby on the cheek, and headed out the door.

I decided to pick up Declyn's farther away friend first. Declyn's theatre class was putting on their first annual talent show and I was picking up two of his friends to bring to the event.

I was sipping and singing and enjoying the short drive deep into the green trees. As is always the case when headed out to this boy's home, I saw critters and majestic mammals. The early evening was beautiful. I felt happy and open.

My son's friend was waiting for me when I arrived and thanked me as he climbed into the car. I let him know it was my pleasure to gather an audience for the show. I love showing off the theatre kids!

As we headed back toward town to pick up friend number two, we chatted.

ME: You're a senior also, right? Are you excited to graduate? Do have mixed feelings about the transition?

FRIEND: I'm excited. I've never really had friends. I'm kind of an outsider or an outcast.

ME: Well, you've got your group now. The boys spend every weekend at your house till 3AM almost without fail!

FRIEND: Ya, that's now. I've moved a lot and always tried to get a group together to play D&D (Dungeons and Dragons). Finally, I have this group.

ME: *Giggling* Well, you found yourself a great group of outsiders here!

FRIEND: Ya, they're all that way. Declyn is funny, too. He has the look and talents of the popular kids, you know? And he does mostly fit in with them but he's an outsider, too. Because he has almost everything they do except, well, he's not an asshole. Oh, sorry for the language!

ME: No problem! You just told me my son is not an asshole. You don't have to be too careful with your language to tell me that. I'll take it presented however you want to present it!

FRIEND: That makes sense. I was wondering, why do you write about autism? I heard you say to someone that you sometimes write about autism.

ME: Well, I have a lot of autistic family members and I've learned a lot about life and listening and actually truly caring about our differences because of it. And since I love to write, it's one of the things I write about.

FRIEND: That's neat. Hey, autism isn't a bad thing though, right? From my limited understanding it's kind of a serious focus on things that make them smarter and know more about it.

ME: I believe you're referring to the interests or perseverations. And you're right, autism isn't a bad thing but it does mean certain things are harder. And the interests you're talking about can mean a lot of different things in different people. Some interests are really hard to use well, and tend to interrupt an ability to follow conversation in common ways. Or even, sometimes, just to be happy. For some folks it's not too intense, for others it's really disruptive and hard. In my family there are so many styles and I've learned to see the similarities while noticing the vast differences.

FRIEND: Declyn said he used to have autism.

ME: Ya, he's lucky that my mom is who she is! She helped us work on his sensory issues and eye contact challenges in such fun and kind ways. And he doesn't seem to have autism anymore. The social challenges were the longest lasting, I think. No, sensory too.

FRIEND: I have a strong memory of a time I made a mean joke around one of my other friends who had autism, before I knew he had autism.

ME: Oh, boy. Kiddo. we all have those. Maybe not specific to autism, but the times we were mean.

FRIEND: Well. We were playing D&D and I made a joke about a choice someone made. I was like, "What, is your character autistic?" And then my friend was like, "You know, that's not a nice joke. Did you know that I'm autistic?" And - my brother has it on video actually - I just sat there. Stone-faced. I didn't know what to say!

ME: Ya, we've all made comments or jokes that are accidentally cruel. I think it's a willingness to listen to people and their reasons when they point it out that helps us grow thoughtful. But we don't know what we don't know, so it's bound to happen to all of us. Particularly when we're young.

FRIEND: Well, I had noticed that my friend had weird habits and, I don't know, was just kind of strange I guess? But we all kind of were, like I said, I'm an outcast. But I'd noticed it on him more. So I probably should have known better.

ME: Seriously, don't beat yourself up. I made similar mistakes all the time and my brothers were autitstic so I had every opportuntiy to know better. It's good to remember, but don't feel overly guilty, you know?

We pulled up to the next friend's house. This friend has been Declyn's best friend since pre-K. As he came up to my car wearing his usual wide almost goofy grin, I felt a moment of pure happiness. Almost as though the car-ride conversation was being given a comfortable closer.

This friend of Declyn's had been pulled out of school to be homeschooled. Largely because of his outcast ways. He and Declyn were being bullied by their Christian peers for their intense interest in Greek mythology and the Greek Gods. Declyn struggled for a few months, but told me he wanted to stay in school. We dealt with it that way, knowing that we were working with the goal of staying. His friend, on the other hand, worked on it with a different goal. And so he worked on it with his mom and they chose leaving.

They both were supported by parents and went the direction of their goals. It's a beautiful thing!

But last night his friend came back to the school - and it was his eighteenth birthday! - to watch his friend, my son, dance on stage in a talent show, senior scholarship fundraiser. And at the end of the night, my son took the mic and sang happy birthday to his friend.

My son drove his outsider friends home, with me - his mom, who has always felt on the edges of society - in the passenger seat.

I think we have all felt like outsiders or outcasts at times. And for many of us an inkling of that is just right. After all, we are all alone and only ourselves and "outside" to some degree. But for many of us, we are even farther outside, it's harder to find our groups or to connect.

But it happens. And when it does, it's a beautiful thing to watch!

Much like how watching my son dance is a beautiful thing to watch.

Oh, what's that? You'd like to see for yourself. Well, I thought you'd never ask! (Errrr.... you did want to ask but I wouldn't stop talking? Sorry about that! tee hee!)
Here's that dance you waited patiently through my story for! 

Happy Friday, friends!!
Outcasts, popular kids, and everyone in-between!! 

BTW: The video straightens out after the first few seconds.