My boy has a diagnosed case of Aspergers. In short, he has little comprehension of the required social skills necessary to make it through most situations that many of us take for granted. He doesn't pick up on social cues. He barges into conversations. He gets really upset when his routine is thrown out of whack. He is a challenge. But he's also my boy and he's a great kid!
|Yep...that's my boy!|
Any ways, as I was mentioning, his challenges often cause conflict out on the playground as he is a constant source of teasing and ridicule. His ticks making him visibly vulnerable and his mannerisms make him odd. It's a constant uphill battle.
About 10 Weeks ago we were contacted by a local organization here in town called Children at Risk; they work with kids that fall within the Autism Spectrum helping them adapt to situations and learn how to "be" more effectively in the world. They wanted to meet with us (including my son) to see if he would be a fit for one of their programs. 8 Weeks ago he started in to a weekly program with 6 other boys that all had some form or mild Autism, Aspergers or ADHD. The goal was to get them to work together in social situations and learn how to manage their challenges more effectively.
While this was all well and good, we'd read the books before and tried different approaches and met with mixed results. As this was costing us, I was a little sceptical about the outcome. "One more cash grab" was the message floating around in the back of my head. I needed to see some serious results to feel that these classes were working.
Each Wednesday night became routine. The wife and kids would pick me up after work, we'd go for dinner, drop my son off at class, shop for an hour and a half, go back and get him, get the dog from Doggy Day Jail (Petsmart Day Camp) and then wrestle the kids into bed after an exhausting 15 hour day. The first few Wednesdays came and went without so much as a whisper about how the sessions were going. We'd ask my son how the class went and generally were met with one or two words. "Good. Ok." Yep, these courses were really paying for themselves......FML.
Then about 4 weeks in I started watching the other parents as they brought their kids to the class and subsequently picked them up later that evening. I watched how they interacted with their boys. I watched the look of frustration or apathy melt away from their faces when the door to the classroom closed and they realized they were free for even a minimal amount of time.
Before you judge though and think that we're all terrible parents that hate their kids, hear me out. As much as I saw these parents go through the motions each Wednesday and systematically cut and run on their kids, I watched their faces when they picked their kids up after each session. It wasn't exhaustion that showed back up, but joy. Seeing their boy come bounding out of the class full of energy and smiles brought smiles to their faces; if even for only a few minutes before the weight of life came floating back down.
As the sessions progressed, I had more people mention to me that they had noticed improvement in my son's disposition. He was calmer, more focussed....happier. The sessions seemed to be working. At times it seemed difficult to see the progress. Sometimes you're too far into the situation to appreciate the changes that are happening.
It wasn't until the second last session that the full weight of it actually hit me. I was in the classroom getting my son or at least, trying to get him!. He was fully focused on a game of to-the-death air hockey with the other boys. It was do or die overtime and the play was fast and frantic. Tongues hanging out of mouths in concentration, eyes focused on the puck and smiles as wide as the Grand Canyon on all of their faces. They were having FUN.
As a Dad, you hope that your kids will grow up healthy, happy and yes.....even popular. For any Parent that has a child that is afflicted by a physical, mental or emotional disorder, you never truly lose site of those hopes, but you learn to adjust your outlook slightly. You learn to be more realistic. You learn to accept certain truths even if those truths smudge your ability to live vicariously through your child. You learn to be a more realistic parent.
|Mines the one on the left.|
Although the group has broken for the Summer the bond formed between these 7 ruffians has not even been bent. Phone numbers have been exchanged, tips and tricks have been shared and plans have been laid that will carry them through until Fall. My boy walks with his head a little higher now as does his Dad who now knows that when he meets a new potential friend, it's OK if he says
"Hello. My name is 'I have no social skills.' Wanna be friends?"
It's OK, because somewhere in this city, there are 6 other boys doing the exact same thing. And their triumphs and tragedies will fuel their stories for the next time they meet.....and play another killer game of air hockey.