I attended an autism conference a few weeks ago and one of the things that stayed with me was practice. The speaker said that if we want our kids to know how to swim, we take them to practice. If we want them to know how to ride a bike, we practice with them. If we expect them to socialize, we need to practice with them.
I’ve realized that we have placed my son in a bubble. He goes to school, therapy, and back home. When we go to the stores, my husband waits in the car with my monkey while I run in and grab what I need. We do this because it’s quicker, but also because it’s easier. We don’t have to worry about the noise, other people, or how my son will react.
We didn’t do this internationally, and we didn’t realize we were doing this until at the conference it was pointed. I knew the message was for me.
But the truth is I like it this way. We don’t worry about stares or side comments. I feel sometimes I’m not brave enough to face the real world with him.
Since the conference, we have been taking him to the stores with us. We are going back to basics. We are starting to teach him that he has to pay for items he wants, he has to wait his turn at the cashier’s line. And in the meantime , I’m also working with myself to arm my feelings so that I won’t get so easily hurt if someone makes a side comment or facial expression.
This year for his birthday, we decided to be brave. Have a small party for him. Get pizza (one of his only two food items that he eats) and sprinkled doughnuts instead of cake (also his favorite). I decorated with happy birthday signs and printed some stop signs to hang around the house. We invited a few family and friends and we hoped for the best.
Normally when we have parties, we will give the monkey his iPad. This way he’s entertained and we don’t have any issues. But this time for his birthday, we didn’t do this. We realized he needed to actually socialize and be present.
And he did amazing. He didn’t get overwhelmed with all the people, he didn’t go hide in the corner, he didn’t try to escape. He was actually in the moment with all of us.
And when we sang him happy birthday, he didn’t cry. He did cover his ears a little bit. But what I loved is that we were all singing in a soft tone so it wouldn’t overwhelme him. At the end, my husband blew out the candles and when everyone clapped, my monkey clapped too.
This is more than what I had imagined. I planned for the worst thinking he would run upstairs to get away or have a meltdown during the singing.
I love how we have beautiful family and friends that understand our son and love him unconditionally. I loved how they tried so hard to get him a gift that he would actually enjoy, knowing how hard of a task that is.
We stopped having parties for him since he was two years old because I felt the reasons for the parties were for me, to satisfy me. They were not for him since he doesn’t understand the concept. But if I expect him to know what the social norms are, then I need to put ourselves in those circumstances.
We will start venturing up more. We will start going out to places more. And we will try to socialize more. Because I realized in these situations, my monkey is not the only one that needs the practice. I need it too.
Happy birthday my beautiful boy. We love you to the moon and back. 💙