Saturday, June 9, 2007
In Praise of Peers
In the world of autism, we often look to a small army of people with titles and training for assistance-SLP's, PT's, OT's, social workers, psychiatrists, teachers, autism specialists, aides, etc. All of these people are great, and I'm glad that they exist. They all have helped Buddy Boy at one time or another.
But something that happened today reminded me of a whole other group of people that are often overlooked, but no less important. Peers. Sometimes just as much assistance (if not more) is provided by occasional individuals with no training, no title, and no pay.
We had a great day today. I was off work. The whole family went to a local cave where noted outlaw Jesse James once holed up. The kids loved walking thru the cave and looking at the stalagtites, stalagmites, and the underground river (although Sweet Pea complained the 40 minutes or so tour was "too long"). Both kids got a souvenir (Sweet Pea got a little unicorn, and Buddy Boy got a flashlight that could project pictures of dinosaurs on the walls). After going out to lunch we still had some time left, so I dropped Liz off and took the kids to our local park.
Who should we run into but Anna, who dedicated readers may remember as the blond girl from Kindergarten who befriended Buddy Boy almost two years ago now. When Buddy Boy was on the fringes and not participating at all, she would approach him and try to talk him into joining the group. She was low key, patient, and persistent. When other typical kids in his class were turned off by his either seeming to ignore them or shrieking at them, she continued to interact with him. And she ended up being one of the better things to happen to Buddy Boy during an otherwise difficult year.
Buddy Boy never got together with Anna outside of school, and when he went to two different schools this past year during first grade, one of our regrets was the loss of Anna as a friendly face for him to see in school.
When we got to the park today Buddy Boy first attempted to climb a crabapple tree that he sometimes likes to climb. Then he ran over to the playground equipment. I was assisting Sweet Pea climb the tree (if Buddy Boy does something, she just has to follow suit). It was then that I noticed the two of them talking. I thought it was Anna from across the playground, but I had only seen her a couple of times, and none recently. They were talking at the top of one of the slides, and I heard Buddy Boy shrieking, which he sometimes does when he gets excited. Usually this is somewhat frightening to most kids, but when this girl didn't run off it confirmed to me that it must have been her.
He followed her and they played on a couple of pieces of equipment. Then Sweet Pea insisted that she wanted to go over and play with them. Sweet Pea went over and quickly convinced them to play "Troll". Playing "Troll" at the playground involves yours truly being the troll who chases the other players and tries to catch and eat them. The troll chases but usually doesn't catch them, except maybe to tag them. Twenty minutes of this left me fairly worn out, but of course the kids could have gone on all afternoon. The kids continued to play a little more after that, then we had to get going.
It was great that Anna remembered Buddy Boy, and even better that she still accepted him as he was. There was a part of me that was afraid that she would have "matured" and been socialized in the last year and a half to reject those who are out of the ordinary. I'm not sure what it was that made her reach out to Buddy Boy when they were in school together, but I'm really happy she did. Sometimes I think it's the non-structured, spontaneous interactions that help Buddy Boy the most.
Here's hoping this is the start of a great Summer.
Random funny thing overheard today (during minor spat between Buddy Boy and Sweet Pea):
"You're lucky that I'm not the kind of brother that would throw his sister into an active volcano that was still filling up with magma."