It happened on a December afternoon at 3:30 PM. I met my son and his dad at Children’s Hospital Therapy Office – a typical place to meet on any given Wednesday. Just as I turned off my car a golden-topped head appeared in my window. His lips were drawn long and low and his ball cap tucked tight over his eyes. I knew right then that this expression meant frustration.
“Hi Bud,” I chimed as I unloaded myself from the car. I pulled him in for a big hug and kiss, but before I could do so Buddy bolted into my car. I looked at his dad who was sitting in his car parallel to mine. His eyes also told me a story: This won’t be easy. Then I looked at my son. His legs were now pulled into his stomach and his head was resting on his bony knees. I lifted the door handle – only to learn that he locked it. Searching for my keys, I quickly realized they were still sitting on the car dash, which meant I couldn’t unlock the car.
Deep breath in – and deep breath out.
Knock, knock, knock on his window. “Hey, Bud, I’m going inside to let Ms. Sarah know that you are here.” I point to the doors of Children’s Hospital and I blow him a kiss. I know this routine too well. In fact, any other parent may consider leaving any child in a locked car with the car keys are very bad idea, but I know my son, and I know that he will eventually come to me.
Inside the clinic I quickly locked gaze with Ms. Sarah who was waiting for Wyatt at the front reception desk. I gave her a smile and tilted my head to the left – a habit I have when I’m not exactly satisfied with something. “Well, my son locked himself in the car. He needs a bit of time,” I explained to Ms. Sarah. “Okay – no problem at all. I’ll come back in a few minutes.” This care-free conversation lasted all of 20 seconds. Ms. Sarah also knew that this was something to be expected. My son was starting a new therapy session today, specifically Social Skills Therapy, and he was very unsure of what would happen in group.
And so, I waited with my Co-Parent in the lobby of children’s Hospital for about 3-minutes. Then, as if cued by the director of a screen play, my son came creeping along the wide pane windows of the entrance. He was stealth like – moving from one window pane to the next. He made eye-contact with me and then moved, again, to another window pane. I sat in my chair and leisurely looked at a health magazine. Everything that I’ve learned as a parent of a child on the spectrum, is not to give into a tantrum. I sat. I waited.
Finally, my son emerged through the front doors and bear-crawled to me. He quickly buried his head in my lap, dropped my car keys on the floor, and started to cry. Tears leaked from his eyes and he gripped the legs of the chair. I rubbed his back and asked him, “Tell me what you are feeling right now.” My son replied with, “Mom, I’m confused. Mom, what is wrong with me?” My eyes also filled with tears and I glanced at my son’s dad who also held tears in his eyes. This was a moment we both dreaded.
So, I did what any mom would do in the situation. I did my very best. I said to my son these very words:
You are perfect just the way you are. I wouldn’t change a thing about you. I love how excited you get when you learn something new. And, I want you to learn more things in life. And, my job as your mom, is to make sure that you have all the tools in life that you need. There is nothing wrong with you. In fact, so many things about you are right and wonderful.
“Then WHY do I need to be here? Why can’t I be at home playing? I want to go home. I want to go home. I want to go home. …” responded my son.
And with all the tools I carried with me in my mom belt, I used another one and I said,
“I know you want to go home. I hear that you don’t want to be here. But, you need to remember that I will only ask you to do things once before I give you the option to decline.”
This was a risky statement, because this group was unlike other groups. My son’s name was added to the wait-list upwards of 13-months prior. The group catered to a group of 8 boys: all rowdy, all routine-orientated, and all very smart. All these boys thrived in so many ways – and all these boys needed to learn new tools for interacting with others in society. It wasn’t like I could just find this group somewhere else. The circumstances were rare.
Alas, I hoped that my words would work. I breathed in – and I breathed out.
“Fine, but only if I can bring my Beyblade with me,” argued my son. “And, I want to sit outside of the room today,” he added. Smart – he knew how to work this system and also get what he wanted. I contrived that it wasn’t my decision – and that he would need to discuss his request with Ms. Sarah.
“Fine,” he said in a firm voice. And, together we walked as a mom, a dad, and a son through the doors that divided us from those waiting in the lobby to those actively working to improve their lives. My son bear-crawled to the classroom and then parked himself 5-feet from the door to the classroom. He pulled out his Beyblade and fixated his gaze on his toy, spinning it around-around-around between in thumb and index finger.
Sitting on the floor with my son we waited for the next moment. We weren’t sure if he would bolt back to the lobby, run to a bathroom and lock himself in it, or continue to sit on the floor. Alas, after a short period of time, a boy, let’s name him Sam, from the group poked his head out of the classroom and then jumped in the direction of my son.
Sam’s words helped my son take the next step. “Hey, Buddy. Is that your name? Hey, today is my first day, too. Hey, is that a Beyblade?”
And then, just like that, my son lifted himself from the floor and walked into his first Social Skills Group session.
Part of growing up on the autism spectrum includes loads of appointments: occupational therapy, social skills therapy, private lessons (because group lessons is too overwhelming, and child psychology. This therapy usually takes place at either the child psychologist office or at Children’s Hospital Therapy Offices. For many years, my son never questioned all of these therapy sessions. After all, each session either rewarded him with a prize such as a Matchbox car or 10-minutes of free-play in the physical therapy gym. For my son (and my daughter alike) this was very normal. However, as years tack onto their beautiful lives, they have both become more astute to what the variety of things they could be doing instead. It is not a surprise that my very astute boy asked me, “Mom, what’s wrong with me?”
In fact, this conversation needed to happen so that I could reaffirm my deep belief that no one person is gifted with all the tools to be successful in life. All humans need opportunities for self-discovery and to sharpen what tools have acquired. This is the beautiful journey called life. And I intend to dive into these sharp, something murky, yet beautiful moments.