Just when things are moving along nicely. . . Friday, Daniel had an Activity Night (again!). I went and worked concessions. This gave me the opportunity to stay out of Daniel's way, yet be there for him if he needed me. Without any prep he came and checked in a few times. Once to tell me he was going to the hall to play Foosball, another to go to the bathroom (which tends to be what he does to take a break and find somewhere quiet). Once he came and bought some M & M's. It was good. A few times I glanced out of my concessions room when there was no one there asking for Coke or candy or pizza. I could see his head over the group, a whole head taller, jumping with the rest of the kids, arms in the air, dancing with the beat of the music. He was having a blast. I couldn't see who he was with and it didn't really matter. He was having fun and I wasn't stressed. Progress.
On the way home I asked him who he was dancing with, to which he replied Emma (who I know and love) and "my new friend Nora". (not her real name) I hadn't heard this one before. I was curious, as mom's tend to be, so I emailed my friend to ask if she knew who this girl was. She did, and assured me of her sweetness. It made me happy to think that he bonded with someone new while rocking out on the dance floor. Monday he came home from school and as we were talking about his day he was reaching into his pocket. I asked him what he had, since he rarely has anything in his pocket. He pulled out a small little card and said "My new friend Nora gave me a Valentine with a sweet treat attached". Yup, the small little Sponge Bob Valentine had an Air Head attached. He seemed pleased. Being an 8th graders they don't all exchange, so I hadn't even thought about it. It can be hard to read his feelings in these situations. I believe he was happy to receive it and be thought of, but he tossed it on the table, where it still sits. I have brought up a few times how nice it was for her to think of him and give him a Valentine. He agrees. But that is as far as it goes. But still, it's progress.
Today he had swimming. His Tuesday girl wasn't there when we arrived. Unusual, but it is only week 3 with her. We waited in the lobby while Zachary bounded up the stairs to the balcony where we watch and he eats his snacks and plays with his I Touch. Daniel looked at me with some concern and asked where she was. To which I replied with a big smile that she would be there. While in my head I was screaming HURRY UP, because I know we only have a few minute window before he starts to stress. Swimming is very important. Any time lost in the pool, causes more stress. So we waited. He asked me again. He told me he was "getting worried about her". I assured him she was fine, just not there. He asked me again. I suggested he ask the Professor if he knew where she was. (Ha! getting him to perseverate on someone else!) But also I was trying to get him to problem solve and make sure she hadn't called in sick. The Prof had no answer. Daniel decided he'd "go wait at the door". THIS was new? I let him.
Other coaches were coming in. I could hear him quietly saying "she'll come", and "she'll be here", hoping in my head that it was true. Although I was losing faith. Quickly. I could see him starting to deteriorate. Nothing too obvious, only obvious to me. The Prof. went to the locker room to set up a back up coach. He came back and said, "give it two minutes and we'll have him swim with the T.A.". I sort of knew that it would be two minutes too long. But I kept quiet. I'm not sure why. A few years ago I would have stepped in and solved it all. At Daniel's age of 14, I know that doesn't always help him. So I smiled and tried to reassure him, and waited.
The T.A. came out and introduced himself to Daniel. Daniel politely shook his hand and replied (sometimes these rote responses are helpful) then Mr. T.A. said, "we get to swim together today". Six simple words. But this slow climb to the top of the cliff sent Daniel over the edge. He started yelling. And jumping. And flailing his arms. And stomping his feet. Did I mention yelling? It is quite a site to see a 205# 5'10" "boy" doing that in the lobby of Jenison Fieldhouse on MSU's campus. I smiled.
I smile because my facial expression is the only thing he can see in a fit, so if I'm not upset, it throws him off. I think it may make other people think I'm a lunatic. Or that I'm brave. Either way, it is something I've trained myself to do, despite what I feel like inside. He fell to his knees. Mr. T.A. said they'd have a great swim. Daniel said through his tears, "I WON'T swim with you! Only Tuesday girl!!" (he said her name, but you see what I'm doing). WOW. That's new. (they sometimes surprise us). This time it wasn't about the swimming. It was about swimming with HER. Interesting. This also proved to be a more difficult situation to get out of. I smiled and assured him, he'd have a good swim (yeah right! I'm thinking DISASTER!) still smiling. "Go ahead Daniel, you can do it". He got up and (still yelling) marched into the locker room. The place I cannot go. Men only. MSU athletes abound. I. can't. go. in. there. Powerless.
So I went upstairs. Filled in my friends and waited. He came out of the locker room, changed, face extremely blotchy. Mr. T.A. came over to where Daniel was sitting. I couldn't hear him, but he seemed to be encouraging him. He gave him five, but Daniel was on the edge of the cliff. Then, as if in slow motion, I could see Mr. T.A. about to pat Daniel on the back. You know... a "way to go" back slap. I felt like I was in the Matrix. It all felt slow motion. I stood up and started yelling, "don't touch him! don't touch him, DON'T. TOUCH. HIM" then smack. On the back. Zachary and I recoiled waiting for the back lash. Daniel's head turned with a jerk, as if to take a giant bite out of his arm as it lay on his back. But he stopped (just) short. Zachary said, "Oh my God I thought he was going to bite him". To which I replied, "He was. But he didn't." Note to those working with kids with autism, WHEN A CHILD WITH AUTISM IS AT THE EDGE OF THE CLIFF... DON'T TOUCH THEM!!!! Is that clear enough?
Then something amazing happened. Tuesday girl walked into the pool area. With a huge smile plastered on her face. (Good girl). She helped him with his goggles (and he got REALLY in her face) a warning. His way of saying, "Tuesday girl I'm PISSED". Then they jumped in. And did he swim? Yes he did. He swam harder and faster than I've EVER seen before. He did new kicks with the kick board. He dove for rings in the 10 ft (which he had refused to do with her until this week). As if he was proving how great he was. It was incredible. Then once he looked up at me and waved. I waved back and he yelled, "MOM, I'M HAPPY AGAIN!" Which is what he always says when he is totally over it. "ME TOO" I yelled back.
After, in that same lobby of Jenison Fieldhouse, where an hour before he was on the ground yelling, Tuesday girl asked how our Valentine's was, and he told her about his Valentine from Nora. To which she said, "I got one from my parents". In a dejected sort of way. Maybe next year Tuesday girl. We said our good byes, and as she was walking away Daniel yelled out, "next week, BE ON TIME". I love that kid.
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