I was having a "conversation" with my Aunt yesterday. That is in quotes because it was in our usual way that we converse, through email. I had updated my Facebook status the night before that I was at the middle school with Daniel. She was inquiring about why we were there on a Friday night (especially before a long weekend). The answer was it was a middle school "Activity Night".
Activity Night consists of several things. First and foremost is the DJ in the large open lunch room. Complete with flashing lights and large speakers. This is the center of the evening. The lunchroom has a lot of windows to the hallway with separate doorways, which allows a good set up for having other games in the hallway. They have Foosball, ping pong and cornhole. I linked cornhole so those of you who do not live smack dab in the middle of a college town and experience tailgating 8 weekends a year can look it up and not wonder what they are making available for these teens! They also have the gym open for basketball, although I have never made it to the gym because Daniel goes for the dancing.
Yes, that's right. My sensory sensitive, autistic son, prefers to hangout in the lunch room with the LOUD music, the flashing lights and masses of teens jumping to the beat of Katy Perry. I say jumping because there seems to be a lot more of these large groups of kids jumping in unison than actual "dancing". Not that I'm expecting waltzes or anything, but I don't seem to remember groups of jumping. I'm getting old. He has been to all but one activity night since he started at the middle school last year. (ours is a 7th & 8th grade school).
Last year I was a volunteer at all of them, because I knew the mom who was in charge of gathering the saintly mothers who gave up a Friday evening to stand guard around the halls so children can't steal off to other parts of the building or to watch the dance floor and gym to make sure everyone is doing what they should be, or even volunteering to sell pizza, pop and candy to the always hungry teenagers. I usually took one of the positions of the dance floor since that is where Daniel prefers to be. It also allowed me to move around and keep my eyes on him. Although this year, I do not know the person in charge of volunteers and she seems to be tapping into her group of friends to work the evening, since I know not one of the adults on site. I have been doing a lot of reflection about how these nights make me feel. Frankly, it's not all that pretty. But I am nothing if not honest, so here it goes.
I spent that whole day of Activity Night, griping, snapping and having a huge knot in my stomach. In short, I'm on the brink of a panic attack. I actually do not understand this at all. I don't know why I do this to myself and what I want to do is say "NO you are staying home with me in the safety of our house". But safe from what? I'm not sure I really know.
Maybe it has something to do with him growing up, but I don't really think that's it. Maybe a very very small part of it, but not much. I sometimes say I want to keep my eyes on him not because of what he will do, but to protect him from being teased. I'm not sure why I'm afraid of that, because we have been really really lucky. I have had no reports of him being teased since second grade and that was one incident on the playground. Those kids were all taken into the Principal's office and talked to. I don't know what was said, but that principal said she was confident it would never ever happen again. And she was right (oh to be a fly on THAT wall) We have built up a large and very faithful group of kids around him. So far it's worked. Maybe it is the unknown. There are a lot of kids in the school that fed from other schools. Kids he hasn't been with since 1st grade. But I don't think that's it either. Again, maybe a very very small part.
Will he get overwhelmed with the stimulation? That has never happened in this scenario. I think we can safely say that after 8 activity nights it is not going to happen. He leaves the room and goes into the hallway when he needs it quiet.
Is it that he has ZERO understanding of money? When he wants to buy a snack he doesn't know how much to give or how much he should get back. He might walk away without his change. He might cut in the line and cause a problem. Also never happened, but I do usually coach him before he wants a snack.
Is it that he doesn't always know when he's "done"? He won't know when to say when and call me if I wasn't there hovering like a helicopter mom? Maybe.
I watched some of his "friends" go out of their way to say hi to Daniel and he very enthusiastically greeted them in return. It pains me that he can't sit and hang out with them and have a conversation. He just can't do that yet. He'll end up quoting Elmo and Barney and Sesame Street. That makes my stomach hurt for sure. It's hard to watch. But it doesn't seem to bother anyone but me. Daniel seems perfectly happy with the interaction he receives.
So what is it? What is the problem? Well I finally decided that the only problem is ME. It is totally MY issue and I need to get over myself. I need to stop the panic attack and let it play out. Actually I DO do that. I keep all of the turmoil going on inside of myself. The only way you'd know is if I snap at you because I am at the end of my rope. So that's what I do. I suck it up and go. This time since I wasn't working I brought a book. I sat in the corner and read in the dark room. Sometimes Daniel would come sit by me. I realize this doesn't look "normal" but honestly, not much about his situation is "normal". The kids are used to me being around. I thought the book would be a buffer so I'm not staring at what everyone is doing. I did receive two comments from adults who wondered how I could a.) see in the dark and b). concentrate among the banging music. Neither was a problem. Like Daniel, when I am totally overwhelmed and in sensory overload I HAVE to block everything out around me. It was actually the most focused I've been reading in a long time!
Near the end of the night, Daniel looked tired and he was sitting by me basically waiting for the clock to read 8:30. A girl from his class came over with some pizza. She set it on the table, then said "Daniel, do you want to dance with me?" He didn't hear her (because he is blocking everything out too!) so I repeated it to him. I saw his face change from exhaustion to excitement. He SCRAMBLED up to his feet and yelled "YES". Following her out to the dance floor. I looked over the top of my book but could only see the top of Daniel's head over the crowd. I couldn't see them dancing together. I restrained myself from running out there and taking a picture on my phone (I would never do that, but I admit the thought ran through my head!) I left them alone and went back to my book. It was only then that I realized that the knot that had been in my stomach all day was gone. I silently patted myself on the back for overcoming my own fears (yet again). That I just let Daniel be Daniel and let him have the experience. Maybe someday soon, won't even go in and just drop him off. Maybe. Someday. One step at a time please.
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