Yesterday, as we left pick-up, one of Benji’s classmates came up to him and insisted on giving him a hug. It was a sweet little boy who had informed me maybe a week earlier when I had visited the class that he had declared himself Benji’s BFF, with all the duties that entails. In fact a few children came up, asking if I was Benji’s mom and declaring their allegiance. Or at least to report to me that Benji’s behavior color was still in good standing at the end of the day.
It was sweet and comforting. The one thing that would give me the sad was watching him interact on the playground in the morning at drop off. He has found his routine of putting his backpack and lunchbox in their respective gulag, but then he would falter a little. I watch him watch the other little boys and girls running about in no doubt a rousing game of zombie tag, and I can see it in his little face: the excitement. He wants to join in. He wants to feel the wind in his hair and the triumph of zombie defeat.
He just doesn’t know how. And if breaks my heart every. damn. time.
They work on it in speech. They work on it in ABA. How to be a friend. How to have a discussion. How to share what may be the awesomest toy in the history of toymaking awesomeness. And he kicks ASS in these skills. With adults. He can be friends with an adult in a city minute.
But kids are so damn exciting!
His eyes light up and he smiles and his little fingers come out with their “love guns” where he will poke you with “love”–he even says “love, love, love!” when he does it–and he starts to dance about in joy. Gods DAMN he loves kids!
And everything he learned in the five million gajillion sessions of [insert therapy here] goes flying out the window, and he will poke and push and jump on someone–usually the ONE kid who does NOT want to rough house and has a habit of telling any and ALL adults in the vicinity about his victimization, and Benji is scolded and told he was wrong.
And it just breaks my fucking heart.
He cannot explain his excitement. He cannot explain his fervor. And he is new to every adult there. He is the only kid with autism mainstreamed into kindergarten at the moment, and sometimes I feel like it’s a giant neon sign saying “watch out for this guy! he’s got issues!”
What sets him apart isn’t the rough-housing or the excitement. Every single kid in all 4 of the classes experiences this. He just can’t explain himself, and doesn’t always understand the reprimand. It’s communication that sets him apart. Otherwise, he is like any other kid waiting to go down the slide, eating his snack at the picnic table, and running around with the joy that modified freedom can bring.
And the other kids see that. well, except for tattle-tale Irving, but he’s prolly got his issues too. They see someone who doesn’t always answer their questions, or know how to “dialogue” during pretend play (but he’s getting better!) but for the most part knows the basics of tag and rasslin, and is usually playing with something pretty cool. He’s a little screamy when he doesn’t get his way–but at 5 & 6, who isn’t? Other than Irving.
But it isn’t the kids who send the notes home, and it isn’t the kids who have “concerns” and it isn’t the kids who see every.single.difference and comment upon it. It isn’t the kids who switch on the neon sign every morning.
That little hug after school reminded me of that yesterday. In the end, that hug meant more than a million hours of compliance. And I’m grateful for it.