With Autism, there are so many challenges; confrontations with school, administrators, family, friends and strangers, that if you measured the stress that autism causes alone, we'd all be on some cortisol suppressing medication. In our Autism Society of America chapter (ASA), we take the time to let the members talk about something positive that happened with their kids, we call them our "golden nuggets". When our chapter began to diversify and host speakers and panels, several of us were missing the golden nuggets from the meetings. For many of us, this was the only time we could be around fellow comrades in Autism; People who had similar paths on the same highway and it was nice for that short period of time to have empathy given and received from others. To fill the void, my friend Connie started a Facebook page so we could talk about our Golden Nuggets and not have to wait to share them at the meetings.
Last weekend, I posted on Connie's Golden Nugget page, that for the first time in several years, my 10 year old, #1 wore a short sleeved shirt. Now, that may not seem like a big deal to most people, but to us, it was a huge moment. He chose to wear his new t-shirt from the hockey team's skate-a-thon. For years, even on the hottest days, he would wear long sleeve shirts. At some point when he was six, he decided that short sleeve shirts were no longer wearable. His sensory issues had surfaced and if he was happy wearing long sleeved shirts in the middle of summer, than that was fine with me. After all, I like to wear long sleeve shirts during spin or hot yoga classes just because I don't like the feeling of sweat dripping down my arms, so I could empathize on some level.
After this huge breakthrough, I began to think of how far he has come in the last year, and all the golden nugget moments we have had.
His BFF: His most social break-though was his new BFF, Will. The kids in his mainstreamed homeroom are very kind and accepting of him, and Will, is especially awesome with him. He has taken #1 under his wing and tries to engage him even though there is no eye contact. He is concerned and mindful of him and I couldn't have asked for a better situation. If you ask #1 who his best friend is, he says "Will". I called his mom and scheduled his first play-date ever, to take them to play laser tag and they had the best time. Just seeing the two of them interact brought tears to my eyes.
His birthday party: Every year I ask #1 if he would like a birthday party or an electronic device, since the cost is comparable. Since this was the big 10, I asked him if he'd prefer a birthday party or an XBox. When he answered, "Party", I had to shake my head. Did I hear that right? You want a party? Not really believing what I heard, I asked him at random times over the following weeks, the same question and in different order, since he has a history of repeating the last choice as his answer, "Do you want an Xbox or a party?" "Party". "Do you want a party or an XBox?" Once again, "Party". Wow, I think he really does want a party.
Our close friends recently purchased "The Ultimate Play Zone" in Cockeysville, MD, so we booked the party there. We took the invitations that they gave us and attached a note. Telling them, about #1 and that it was his first real birthday party and we credited their kids for giving him such a positive social experience at school that he wanted to have a birthday party. We invited all 24 kids from his class and 14 classmates joined him to celebrate. Every parents RSVP'd and some kids even chose to go to his party over sports events because we let them know how awesome and unique that was. It was nice to see so many kids and parents come to support his big day. And every kid there kept the secret that the Red Power Ranger was coming to visit. The video alone will make you smile.
He got his first 100 on a test. Once, again, not a biggie to #2, the Aspy, or to most people, but a huge accomplishment for him on two planes: 1) he proved he was able to absorb and demonstrate skills, and 2) all the extra time I spent with him trying to get the information into his head, was working. He aced most of his geography tests of the United States and is doing better than "barely passing", so when he comes home with great grades, the parade comes to town. Yes Houston, I'm here.
He protests with appropriate language. This is a huge jump from "I will scream, flap and run through the house and maybe cry a bit, to "come on mom. Are we finished yet?" and "why do I have to learn this?" When I offer him a snack he doesn't prefer, he responds with, "You want to give me cookies."as if he is trying to hypnotize me into complying.
He is more aware of other people's emotions. He has asked me, "Mom, why are you angry? If his sissies are crying he comes to me and asks me what their problem is or he asks them what he can do to help them. Long ago, we linked his lack of eye contact with unawareness of a situation, but we know now that eye contact has nothing to do with awareness. His ears work fine. If he hears someone's voice change, he is on it and wants to know why. We can use this skill to teach him some of the subtleties of human interaction, even if he has to rely on his sense of hearing over his sense of vision to read people.
It is our job to teach, direct and prepare him for life as an adult, which is only eight years away, and it is accomplishments like these that shine hope on the years to come. I'm looking forward to the next batch of golden nuggets regardless of how small they are because each one is a treasure.