There are a lot of things you learn to cope with when dealing with autism. When Sam was little we figured out some of his triggers and learned to avoid them if possible. I say some triggers because the thing with autism is that you don’t always know what the triggers are and some days it would be something completely normal and common to our life that had never gotten a reaction before that moment. I also said ‘avoid when possible’ because sometimes you couldn’t always avoid the situations. Sometimes you just had to go the grocery store.
In our experience the triggers are less frequent now that he is older. Not sure if it is just normal (for an autistic kid) maturing or the years of working with and dealing with stuff that makes the difference but I have a feeling it is a combination of both.
But there are still things to deal with. Mostly social things. Sam is no respecter of personal space. A common conversation in our house happens around the hugging of his sisters. First it should be noted that when Samuel wakes up…he is awake. His sisters? Not so much. And Sam is also tall. Really tall. He has a tendency to squish his sisters. Consequently, they are somewhat resistant to his brand of affection. “I just want to love them, Mama!”
So we talked. About how if he wants to hug his sisters because he loves them then he needs to show that love to them in a way that is pleasing and pleasant to them. He needs to be gentle and considerate. He can’t just grab them around the neck and squeeze.
He’s working on it. It’s probably a conversation we will have to have in different forms many more times but he is working on it.
We’re working on a lot of things along those lines.
Sam loves to ride his bike. He also likes to visit. There are two families in our neighborhood that we also go to church with. We’ve had to talk with Sam about limiting his visits because he was stopping to visit every single time he went for a bike ride. Which is probably about four or five times a day.
Visits from Sam can be awkward because, and I say this with much love and joy in my son, Sam is awkward. He tends to enter a room like Cosmo Kramer. And he just wants to poke around and check things out. His conversational skills are less than smooth unless he is talking about his cartoons and comics and he’s loud.
Both families have accepted his inelegant visits with much kindness and grace. Sometimes they give him tasks to do or just enter into the clumsy cadence of his conversation. One of our friends shared about one of his visits where he just hung out in the grand kids play room, rummaging around and then she heard him on her elliptical exercise machine.
Both families have made room in their lives for our son. I like to think that, in some ways, Sam is contributing something to their lives that is pleasant and pleasing but the truth of the matter is that Sam requires a lot. A lot of grace, a lot of tolerance, and a lot of room to just be Sam.
I guess the take away from this post, if there is one, is this. If you have an autistic person in your life somewhere don’t be afraid to let them into your life. Don’t let their awkwardness put you off. Trust me – you may sense the awkward but they don’t. They’re learning grace from you. They’re learning life and family and friendship from you. I’m not saying let them have free reign. Our friends do a good job of welcoming Sam in but also of putting boundaries in place for him. They add their string melody to the percussion rhythm of life we’re pounding out for him everyday.
There are plenty of places for us to sound out our solos but our boy needs to hear the sounds of the full orchestra. We all do. And when your community steps in and joins your song right where you are it is the most beautiful sound you will ever hear. It’s the sound of grace.
If you’re serious about stepping into the song of a family with autism be prepared for some crazy riffs. They don’t always know when to let it rest. Case in point, one of the sweet families mentioned above paid Sam to take care of returning trash cans and check the mail while they were on a trip. He did a great job. About a week and a half after they got back though I received a call from Terri asking me to chat with Sam about checking their mail. It seems that he was still checking it and setting it on their front porch. The concern was that it would blow away before they got to it. The other big concern was the fact that he was removing the outgoing mail 🙂
The other of the sweet families above went for a walk around the neighborhood the other day, and returned the favor of a pop-in visit. It was a joyful moment, and everybody (even Sam) got the joke.