Yesterday... all my troubles seemed so far away...
Yesterday, something amazing happened. One wonderful family opened their house to a bunch of other families. There was cake and Wii and Thomas the Tank Engine. There were safe zones and quiet spaces and inside play and outside play. Kids played together or not. Kids talked or not.
The parents? Well, we didn't shut up.
The families are all a part of an online group called Autism United, which formed (through the energy of one brilliant and exasperated parent) after the autism association in my local area lost its way with its online community. Because of this, many of us are based in or around Sydney (Australia), though there are members from all over the place.
For many of the partying parents yesterday, it was very pleasantly odd. Mainly because we could sit for stretches of time, without hovering or checking or thinking up explanations for what was going on with our kids.
For the kids, it fun. You know, that stuff kids do when adults aren't hovering or checking or thinking up explanations for their behaviour...
The thing that stuck out most was the lack of conflict among the kids. They played video games, they chased each other, they built Thomas tracks, they swung, they bopped each other with those giant inflatable hand bopper things... there were tears only once, right at the end when the youngest member of the group didn't want to leave his awesome Thomas creation. Totally understandable tears.
This seemed truly unusual. Seriously. Eleven kids aged from four to fourteen. Two thirds of them on the spectrum, the others siblings. You'd expect chaos, right?
It was the complete opposite. The interesting thing was the lack of judgement among the kids. If someone didn't answer a question, no matter. If someone didn't talk at all... so what? If someone walked off in the middle of a game, that's OK. Flapping... check. Sensory crashing... check. Scripting... check.
It made the grown ups talk about the interesting diagnostic processes we put our kids through. The lists of things they cannot do. Top of the list for most of our kids - does not play well with others.
Yesterday, in a group of kids who were not mystified/intrigued/alienated by difference, they played just fine. They played in their own way, and they played just fine. It looked like any other bunch of kids playing (seriously, except that every so often one would leave the group and swing or sing or chill out in another room while repeating chunks out of Toy Story 3.)
At the heart of this gathering were a bunch of amazing parents. These are people who have pulled themselves out of their own situations to innovate, speak up, share, help out, educate... People who had kids and then had their fears confirmed.
The conversation swung from the usual (why do mothers-in-law have such interesting personalities?) to the hilarious (it’s totally OK to answer the question ‘How are you?’ with ‘I like pie.’) to the downright tragic (the key words to get more aide time at school – runner, climber, biter, poo)…
At the end of the day, the incredible hosts presented all the adults with a beautiful heart necklace and all the children with sensory balls. It was magical, and normal all at once.
Gifts? Wisdom? Laughs? Acceptance? Cake?
And now I need a place to hide away. Cos Yesterday, I ate lots of cake... Oooooh, ooooh, oooooh, ooooh, ooooh, ooh, ooooooh.
I think maybe they should sue me. I suck at karaoke.
Valerie's increasingly random ravings can be found at Jump on the Rollercoaster.