This year since Halloween was on a Saturday that meant we would have two days of festivities which translates to an extra day of potential over stimulation. Friday the kids were suppose to wear their costumes at school and then in the afternoon there was a Dance-A-Thon where the kids were raising money to build a playscape in the school yard.
I was at the Dance-A-Thon for 2 hours with Princess who is 5 and the kindergarteners for the 1st hour and then with the older kids where my son Johnny was going to be. It was a very different experience between the two children and much of that is because of the age difference. On the surface, they left the lights on for the little ones and they didn’t have the music as loud. What I really enjoyed was the little kids are not as self-conscious at this age and are willing to dance with each other and be silly. The only challenge you have is that halfway through they all start getting tired.
My happy memory is I got to dance the whole time with my little girl and twirl her around in her Peacook costume that I made. At one point the Justin Bieber song “Baby Baby” came on and she was too tired to dance so I lifted her up and held her as I twirled her around.
As the little kids departed the older children entered and the lights were dimmed and the music got louder creating a sensory overload experience for my son. Johnny wasn’t the only artistic child entering the gym and I will say they did really well considering. I like seeing Johnny try to stay with his friends even though most of the boys seem to want to do is either run around the gym and play tag instead of dancing or sit on the edge of the stage and listen to the music. Meanwhile the girls all seem to break up into little groups and they would try to dance a little and be very self-conscious.
I think one of the things that autism brings to the table is the “good side” of having a lack of social filters. Every moment of every day Johnny is reminded him that he needs to try to figure out what the social expectation is. Even at the dance, he has to figure out what he is supposed to do. When we go to a dance, we dance and listen to the music. One of the things he has done to get through every day is he watches carefully what his peers are doing and tries to copy them. He finds the boys a bit harder to follow along so he usually prefers to be with more girls. Little does he know that this is probably the very best thing he could possibly ever do because whether you’re eight years old, 16 years old or 50 years old, girls want to dance and are looking for a partner.
I look over in front of the stage where a whole bunch of kids are gathered and it’s mostly girls who are all squealing over the latest song selection. They start dancing and grooving along and in the center of them is Johnny. He is trying to dance and follow whatever actions that they are doing. His teacher thinks it’s a hoot and she comes over and joins the dancing scrum and he copies all the different actions she’s doing. Meanwhile a look over it most of the boys are just running around playing tag still not wanting to join in because maybe they’re just too cool already at eight years old. But one of the things I’m learning with my son is that he doesn’t care what people think about him if he’s having fun. If it makes him feel good he does it. It’s a simple as that. He only cares what someone thinks when someone is disappointed in him or has low expectations of him . He does not like it when someone says only boys do that or only girls to that. If it’s fun and makes him feel good he says, “why not? ” So at one point when he didn’t seem to know what to do I just went over and told him “you were doing the right thing just stick with all the girls and have fun.” The way I look at it is if he keeps this up by the time he’s a teenager and has to go to wall those awkward dances will be the most sought after kid in the room by the girls;)
What also helped is one of his best friends at school was wearing a Tinkerbell costume because Tinks wings lit up! With the lights down low and the loud music sometimes it was hard for Johnny to orientate himself and hard for him to find some of his friends but he could always find her and she became his anchor like she always is throughout the day. He just had to look for her very bright lit up wings;).
The only thing that bothered me a little bit was John would keep going up to another Mom and giving her hugs spontaneously. I feel totally guilty feeling like this and I would tell myself how many years we worked to try to get him to interact with adults and peers spontaneously and socialize. I should be celebrating a success! I noticed that he was doing it quite a bit and I would have to reconcile with myself that with the Autism he doesn’t realize that he’s hugging too much and then I wonder am I just getting jealous. I was having that feeling that I used to get at the beginning of this journey which is craving interactions from Johnny. It was like I was starving for something that I wasn’t getting that other parents were taking for granted. Back then I just wanted him to look at me, to share things with me, to spontaneously hug me without me asking for a hug. But as I watched him keep hugging this one mom I realized that I have to put my feelings aside because it wasn’t about me. Later I would use this as a teaching moment and to him about how I felt that he wasn’t coming over to me at all and acknowledging me until he needed help. I know the boys are not going to want to hug their Moms in public, but for Johnny it feels like he is compartmentalizing me and saying this is school and Mommy you’re a home person. Last year when he played in the same school yard as his younger sister he was doing that a lot with her every day at recess. I’m going to write about that in another entry but I know it made her feel very sad because she just wanted to be acknowledged.
I think in hindsight I was dealing with completely different experiences I had with my children at the dance. Differences that age makes but also the differences that Autism brings to relationships. For me I made the mistake of expecting the same experience with both my children. I need to also remember that my boy is growing up and I will have to step to the peripheral more and more and that’s a good thing. But I also have to make peace with myself and know that it’s OK to crave the feelings and interactions that I got from my daughter and that I want that from my son. I just have to remember that in these social events he.is navigating a social minefield. He has so much on his plate in that experience I should not add to the challenge. I have to accept him for who is like he accepts me for who I am. Instead I have to find a way to help him navigate the social sphere of having so many of your friends being girls and how they might get a bit jealous if you pay more attention to one. That’s for another blog post:)