For those unaware, it is generally a bad idea to change things on an autistic person. Autistics shy away from new things. The idea of trying to get Buddy to do new things causes my heart to skip a beat, and I avoid it as much as possible.
It started when he was a baby. I began to notice immediately he did not like going to new places. If I wanted to rearrange furniture, I had to do so where he could see, or he would have a meltdown. Even after he saw me do it, if he left the room and came back, he would be fussy. He would touch everything to be sure they were still there. This made moving very, very difficult.
Ever since Buddy started school, I have noticed some gradual improvement. One of the biggest shocks came one day this past month (March was a very odd month for us) when I poured him a bowl of cereal. Buddy always eats it dry with a big glass of apple juice. On that day, he called me over and pointed to the box.
“Mama, what is that?”
“That is milk. You like milk. People put milk in the bowl instead of in a cup. It is yummy to have milk on cereal.”
“Milk? On my cereal?”
“I want to do that.”
I was stunned, but I complied. I had expected to just put a splash on there. If he didn’t like it, I didn’t want to have to dump the bowl and get a new one. Silly me, it didn’t look like the picture! I had to put enough milk in to make it look like the picture. He took a tentative bite, grimaced, but kept eating. I watched him, amazed. He ate the whole bowl, and now eats it with milk all the time.
One of Buddy’s favorite shows is Yo Gabba Gabba. There is a song called “Party in My Tummy.” Some characters eat the yummy food, but skip over the more healthier items. This causes the items to cry, “We want to go to the party, the party in your tummy!” The characters eat them and all are happy. I have used this song on occasion to coax my kids into eating their food, but it has never worked with Buddy.
One day in March, my parents came in from out of town and treated us to a dinner out. Buddy ordered his usual plate of pancakes. It comes with sausage, and I usually remove it and feed it to his brother, The Bottomless Pit. This time, I was distracted when his plate arrived.
“What is this?” he asked me.
“That is sausage. It is kind of like a hot dog. You like hot dogs.”
“I could like this.” He took a bite. Judging from his face, he did not like it, but he would take a small bite once in a while until he finished his pancakes. He announced he was done, and that the sausage was happy in the party in his tummy. I praised him for trying the sausage. Yesterday, when I explained tortellini was just cheese hiding in pasta, he tried it and ended up eating a whole bowl.
Buddy sits in a booster seat and usually requests that his brother buckle him in. With Buddy trying new things, I thought perhaps he might be taking a step forward and decided to encourage it. I went to buckle him in and asked for help, since he loves to help people. I asked him to pull the seat belt out as far as he could so I could reach. Then I asked him to pull it across his body while I fished out the buckle. I held it and asked if he could put it in for me. When he did and let go, I made a big deal about his having buckled himself for the first time. He blinked at me in amazement as he realized what he had done. He buckles himself most of the time now and proudly announces how many times he has done it. Today was number ten.
Every week, we take a trip to the library. Buddy usually checks out two videos. He prefers Yo Gabba Gabba, but he will occasionally check out a few others he’s familiar with. One day, they did not have the video he wanted, and he curled up on the floor, trying not to break down, when he said, “Woah, what is that?”
He carefully pulled out a DVD from the bottom shelf. It was titled Octonauts. He begged to get it and grabbed another DVD. He’s been hooked since, and checks them out every week. To summarize, animals go exploring underwater and discover various sea creatures. It’s educational, and he loves it. I’ve encouraged it. He has always loved water; perhaps he will be a marine biologist!
At the end of February, Buddy’s teacher contacted me and requested a meeting. She informed me that Buddy has been doing so well, that she would like to try him in General Education (GE) with the idea that he attend GE full time next year.
A bunch of emotions. Thrilled that my son could move out of Special Education (SE). Fear that he would not handle the change, the newness, the stress, the stimulation, the material. This was The Moment. Could my son fit in with general society, or would he always need special treatment? What if he was fine, but the other kids or teacher couldn’t handle him? Would we get another chance? What if this time scars him for future efforts? If you can’t tell, I’m a worrier.
Since he found math boring in SE, his teacher tried this first. I expected him to be emotional when he came home that day, but he was actually happier. He grabbed crayons and paper and began explaining to Lily the concepts of Plus and Minus. He used the words constantly, proud that he had grasped the concepts, seeming to take pride in knowing that he had been missing something when it came to math, and now he had finally found it.
After most of March had passed, his teacher summoned me again. She said that since he had done so well, she wanted to try another class she believed he would excel in: Physical Education (PE). Buddy took to it instantly. He comes home more tired than before, but he is still happy and doing well.
Buddy loves technology and has always had a knack for it. I always warn people, “Don’t let him near your phone/tablet/laptop etc.” I get a laugh and “It’s fine. He can’t hurt it.” When they get their item back, the first thing I hear is, “Wait, how did he do THAT?!” I don’t know how he found walkthroughs of his favorite video games on YouTube or how he learned to make a playlist of them. I don’t know how he figured out where the various volume controls on the computer are so he could shut off the sound and not get caught sneaking on. The rule here is, “Don’t let him see you do it.”
In mid-March, Buddy’s brother had a tournament, and we all went with. In one corner, they had video game battles. After the tournament was over, they allowed free play. Buddy watched the tournament for hours, leaving only for lunch. When he was allowed to play, he selected a character. The poor teen who offered to play him had no idea what he was up against. He lost instantly. The teen blinked, squared his shoulders, and decided to take the fight more seriously. He still lost. As did every single person Buddy played against. Word spread quickly of the amazing five year old who could beat anyone. A line was formed of people of all ages begging to play him. Unfortunately for them, once Buddy knows he has mastered something, he gets bored and moves on.
Perhaps next time I will let him enter the tournament.
There is a school near us, one of the best in the country. It focuses on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. I was thrilled when they scouted out my oldest child, who desires to be an astronaut. It was my hope to one day have Buddy there as well. The other day I received the letter in the mail; Buddy has been accepted! They have SE if he needs it, and various services if he can go in GE. I am so excited for next year!
One of the major setbacks with autism is just that — setbacks. Every leap forward is accompanied by a sliding backward. He was potty-trained, then suddenly refused to use the toilet. He was buckling himself, then suddenly insisted he couldn’t do it, insisted that he had never done it. With these leaps forwards, I know that I am due for a step backward, but it is such a joy to watch him grow, to make those leaps. The setbacks are temporary. His journey is amazing.