A Lonely Road

I was asked by a young girl if she was bad for not wanting to be friends with a boy who had Autism.  His quirky behavior was as she put it, “driving her bonkers”.  He’d get in her face, follow her around, and spin in circles on the floor.

I was coming at this question from two perspectives.  One is I am on the spectrum myself and empathize with the boy.  On the other hand, I was a substitute teacher’s assistant and although I love the students, some do test my patience and so I could empathize with where she was coming from.

I answered with first stating I didn’t think she was a bad person. Just the fact that she was asking the question suggests to me she’s nicer than she thinks.  I advised her not to abandon him completely.  She didn’t have to be his best buddy but I advised her not to ignore him completely. I know all too well what it is to be ignored and it hurts like heck.

I gave her a few examples of those, (how shall I put this nicely), put my patience to task.

One was a boy on the Spectrum who does not give his voice a break.  I often wonder what keeps him from getting laryngitis.  My best coping mechanism is a sense of humor about it.  I don’t mean laughing at him; just keeping my sense of humor to ease the chatter on my nerves.

Another example was an autistic boy whose behavior for whatever reason changed for the worse when he changed schools.  He had been such a gentle soul but the change in schools took a toll on him.  He was physically disruptive and the other kids were a bit frightened of him.  I did my best to remain calm around him.  I knew he couldn’t help it.  He even knew that.  His teacher told me that one day he had given her a hard time.  He came over, gave her a hug, and said, “I don’t know why I do it.”

Then, I told her about the gentle giant who loves to give hugs and kisses. She has the autism trait of being repetitive in saying or asking things over and over again. That can get annoying! But I try to be patient because I know her story. You see she’s the new kid on the block in her class as well as neighborhood. Her world was rocked when her Mom died in another state and she now lives with Grandma. She talks about her Mom being in Heaven as if her Mom just moved away to some far-away location. She freely talks about joining her someday as if death is an everyday topic. Her teacher gently tries to change the subject, but rest assured, the gentle giant will bring it up again.

Last example, but not least, is a 7 years old who is the youngest in his autism unit. He’s also the only one who has yet to utter his first word. He does understand some of what he hears for he will do what he is told for maybe 2 minutes at most. He’ll flap with one arm, stop, hit his teeth with one hand, stop, give the top of his head two slaps, and start over again. The teacher will tell him to put his arms down and that works for maybe 10 seconds. He was climbing over me and I gave him a hug. While trying to put him back in his chair, what did he have in his hand? My billfold! I got pickpocketed! I showed his teacher and she wasn’t the least bit surprised. I wasn’t his first victim and I surely won’t be the last.

The girl with the question was amused at my stories and I told her that I laugh at my own quirky behavior all the time.  It beats crying about it.  I think I gave her some food for thought.  I hope she decided not to abandon the boy.  After all, Autism can be a lonely road.

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A Crowded Nightmare

The nightmare happened on a day near the end of the school year for a 6th-grade boy with autism. There was something different going on at school that day. A break from their regular routine to attend a gym competition. For him, any change in routine, good or bad, can be another nightmare.

The competition was among the older grades. I was taking part by helping the coach take score. I noticed him coming in with panic written all over his face. He looked around as if he had stepped out of a car and found himself in a far away place. His world had been thrown off kilter. I felt empathy because I had been in a similar boat many times.  Routine is essential to me too.  I just have coping skills he doesn’t have.  I don’t think it was just the crowd, but the hustle and bustle of basketball shooting, frisbee throwing, and relay racing. There were whistles blowing and kids roaring with boos and applause.

The teacher aide recognized he was in sensory overload. She had him sit down with some of his classmates who were taking all the commotion in stride.  In no less than a minute, he got up and stepped out on the gym floor spinning in circles. He made an indescribable sound but a familiar one to those in his inner circle. This is his own unique distress call when he is potentially in meltdown country.  When he almost ran into a student who wasn’t steady on her feet, the teacher brought him back to the sidelines. He sat there for maybe five minutes. That was as long as he could take before getting back up and spinning once again on the floor.

This time the aide brought him back but she sat down on the floor with him. She gently rubbed his arms and hands to soothe and reassure him it was okay. Her idea worked and he calmed down enough to remain seated.

Although he could pass for a high school football player, he is a gentle soul. Even in meltdowns if he physically hurts anybody, it is himself.  After the last contest, she had no problem whatsoever getting him to go back to the classroom. He was the first one in line as his class walked back.  He was more than ready to return to the familiar place and resume the routine. His crowded nightmare, at least the one that day, was over.