Caleb's ABA center hosted a parent's night out function tonight, designed to help the kids practice socialization with each other and with their neurotypical peers. Well, I say parent's night out, but since my husband was out of town, it was more of a Mommy-is-out-of-the-social-loop-and-spent-the-night-at-a-coffee-shop-with-a-book kind of night.
Anyhoo, this was to be neurotypical Colby's first real experience with other ASD kids, most of them exhibiting more apparent symptoms than his brother. I went back and forth on how to handle this. Do I let it ride, and treat it as normally as possible? Or do I give him a list of potential scenarios, and risk making him nervous? In the end, I decided I was thinking too much again, and left the kids in the very capable hands of Caleb's therapists, figuring we'd take it as it came.
So, I got a few hours to myself, and they got enough junk food, toys and stimulation to put them in a Fisher-Price-induced coma. It was a win-win, in my opinion.
When I picked the kids up, they were pleasantly exhausted and had had a great time. Colby babbled on about colors and cookies and chalk boards and popcorn, and when I could get a word in, I asked him about the other children.
Did you play nice with them? I asked, cautiously.
After a swift response of "yes," (his sense of self-preservation is remarkable at such a young age) he paused for a thoughtful moment. He then told me matter-of-factly that one child was "bad" and had "hit." It wasn't entirely clear who the target of the hitting was, but since I'm sure Caleb's therapists would have told me if there had been a problem, I assumed the hitting was self-inflicted.
I drew a deep breath. We'd talked to Colby before about his brother being different--even using the term autistic--but couching it in terms his 3-year old mind could understand. To him, autism meant having trouble learning to talk, and not liking certain noises, which are his brother's main symptoms. Apparently the time had come to shed a little more light on the subject.
In carefully chosen words, I explained to him that some kids with autism did things that may seem bad, but really just meant that they were frustrated, or scared, and they couldn't help it. Some things that he may think were "bad" or "weird" were really just another child's way of making themselves feel more comfortable - like Caleb holding his ears sometimes. I then went on to tell him that it was our job to be patient and kind to people who were different, and to always think about how we might feel if we were them. It was important to always treat other people, especially special people like Caleb and his school friends, how we would want to be treated.
There was silence from the back seat, and I braced myself for the questions, praying that I would be able to find the right words.
Okay, Mom, my little man said, eyes locking onto the in-car entertainment system. Can I watch a movie?
Maybe he wasn't listening to a word I said - this is possible, but the quality of his silence was a little different tonight. Believe me, I know the sound of being ignored. I'm pretty convinced he heard and absorbed every word I said, as he usually does in that scary way of his. At his innocent age, and in the absence of judgmental "friends" and bullying peers, I think he simply accepted my words as truth, and thought nothing more of them.
I pray to God his acceptance is always that pure.