Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Something Larger than Yourself

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My kiddo, Matty, and his best friend, Sammy have been nerding out together for over a year now. I'm really quite impressed they have navigated the complicated social situations and hierarchies of neighborhood kids. I am tickled to see the two get into age appropriate trouble together, take up for each other and basically see their bond on display on a regular basis.

Sammy is a great ally for Matt, helping him work through the more aspie moments and understanding when Matty needs space. He's been the autism ambassador for Matty when other kids have asked Matty "why are you so weird?" (true story. And it's autism kids that are supposed to have no filter?).  As a mom, I can't imagine a better friend for my kid.

Remember those days of childhood? One day so and so is friend and the next you have no clue what happened but you're treated like you have the plague. Or maybe it's your aren't cool enough. Or maybe you are different. Maybe you said no to peer pressure. Maybe you saw someone doing something dangerous or wrong and spoke up. Maybe so and so's friend is jealous and starts a rumor about you. We've all been there at some point in our lives. People are mean. Social situations can feel like a battlefield when you are the enemy. Unfortunately kids that are different are often the enemy.

Navigating relationships and social situations as a NT person is not easy. If it were, shows like Jerry Springer would have never existed and Dr. Phil would be out of business. No one would get divorced and Congress would probably be an efficient governing body. No one would commit crimes because people would actually think their actions through. All the world's past and present ills would be erased. Let's face it: NT don't have the social aspect of humanity anywhere close to correct. If we did have it right, we'd be living in Utopia. Being different would be okay.

I'm always a little amazed at the social judgement by NT people. I remember once my husband came home from a kid's birthday party with the kid. Hubby was utterly devastated because other parents made fun of him for not letting our chug can after can soda at five years old. I was shocked. I couldn't believe the judgement passed by other adults just because we helped our kid moderate his behavior, which saves our whole family from sugar-caffiene-crash hell. That judgement came from our choice being different from theirs. I see nothing wrong with teaching our kid how to make healthy choices in a social situation. Cause you know, binge drinking isn't cool at parties. At the same rate, I'm not gonna judge you for letting your child consume their body weight in soda on their birthday or at a party. 

People seem to forget the old saying when you live in a glass houses shouldn't throw stones? I have met a lot of people who could really benefit from social skills training that are well outside the autism community. During a political campaign season, all you have to do is read the news or turn on the television to remind you that humans suck at social skills in general.

This subject, that people are mean to others who are different, ended up playing out in my house the other day. You see, Matty and Sammy have always been open to including new kids in their exploits, but no one has really fit. By fit, I mean no kid has ever been able to hang with the differences of Matty and Sammy in a larger group of kids. Those two always end up being social pariahs (and mostly Sammy by the default of liking and sticking up for my son). There was no third kid with (early) Musketeer ethics (cause don't the Musketeers have a falling out later in life?).

That changed a couple of weeks ago. Enter Teddy. Teddy was a quiet kid, I thought. Matty and Sammy were practically ga-ga over his skateboarding skills. There was no posturing or pretense. He is just a down to earth kid. Teddy is helping the other boys with their skateboard tricks. He just... fits. The two boys made Teddy's visits seem like Tony Hawk himself was showing up at my door.

The other day, Matty told my hubby that Teddy didn't like to speak to people. The kid explained that it wasn't because Teddy was shy or dumb, but because he has a speech impediment. I think it bothered Matty that this really cool, new friend of his didn't think of himself this way. The hubby suggested Matty share his own diagnosis because he can relate to being different.

My kid did just that. He shared with Teddy, he also encouraged Teddy. Different does equal shameful. A speech impediment doesn't mean you have less to say; It just means you have work a bit harder to say it. My kid can certainly relate to communication issues. No one had to say that Teddy has probably faced relentless ridicule by his peers and stigma by adults because of a speech impediment. We know what's its like in this house to be different.

My kid told his friend that there was no shame in being different. Matty related to his new friend in a way that not many others could. Sammy lent support. In the words of Temple Grandin's mother (which I often use myself) different is not less. Different, not less. 

Turns out Teddy has a lot to say. The shy, quiet kid blossomed in my living room. And yes, he does have a speech impediment, but that day it didn't stop him from opening up, chatting away with the boys in front of us parents. He stopped giving me one word answers and there was no silent shaking 'yes' or 'no' of the head. Teddy's whole demeanor changed as his words danced around the room.

Later, when they went outside to skate, you could hear Teddy for the first time hooting and hollering like a boy should. I didn't mind the loudness this time. That noise was a result of my boy who related to and encourage a friend, not by spotlighting sameness, but by relating and embracing differences.  My son took on the challenge of expressing his feelings and thoughts in a way that his friend completely understood. I still feel misty eyed thinking about the positive impact my kid had on his friend's life at that moment, helped a friend remember the power of his voice.

While discussing the boys love for Teddy, my hubby questioned what made Teddy so special to them. I told my husband that the logic to it is simple. Here are two boys who aren't like the other kids around them. They know it. They've been excluded. Teddy adds a piece to that-- he can relate to them. There is strength in numbers. As people, we all want to part of something larger than ourselves-- even if you have an impairment.

Yep, I'm one proud mom.

P.S. I'm sorry if I'm all over the place. For one, I'm outta practice writing. For two, I had surgery yesterday and am loving my pain meds at the moment. 

P.P.S. Later this week, I will be making a really, super exciting announcement!! So stay tuned!! I've been working hard (with the help of some friends) to bring our autism community something really special.

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