Why I Love That The Boy Plays Video Games

This past weekend, The Man and I took The Boy to Myrtle Beach for a mini vacation. Overnight, to be exact. We hadn’t been in a long while, and there’s just something about it that we adore. Grammy and Poppy had already made plans to go down for a long weekend, so we hopped in the car on Saturday morning and were on our way.

As The Boy has grown, he has developed a deep and abiding love for Myrtle Beach because of the overabundance of arcades. He has found his favorite games in several arcades, and indeed, we spent a good portion of our time Saturday following  him around and playing a little ourselves.

One of his absolute favorites is Galaga, a throwback to the 80s. And I love watching him play. You may think it a bit odd, that one of the things he does that makes me proudest is play an old video game, but here’s why: he wins.

He does well, he has developed his own insanely smart strategies that I’ve never seen anybody use in that game or elsewhere, and he often gets his name on the high score board as a result. And if he doesn’t, he’s completely ok with it, and has no real sense of failure.

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What can we take from this? Predictability helps him learn and develop strategies. The norms of video games (that you learn by doing, over and over again) allow him to learn and develop at his own pace. And by giving him just those two pieces, he has a high level of success.

One of the most-shared autism memes goes something like, “I wouldn’t change you for the world, but I would change the world for you.” We get a lot of resistance sometimes when we ask for modifications and accommodations. But two simple structures in place in that game are all it took for The Boy to become an expert, devising complex strategies and showing actual results. This is why we fight to get what he needs.

Eyes Averted

After The Boy’s final band concert for the year, I anticipated a meltdown. His TA had asked his friends-who-are-girls to make sure to high-five him before they left, but I knew they wouldn’t. I tried to prepare him for it several days in advance, even getting a promise that he wouldn’t get upset because he knew he would see them the next day. But when he was done, the panic set in, and he wound up, eventually returning to the stage area (where many people remained, clearing the stage), throwing his binder, and then his mouthpiece (a small but heavy hunk of metal).

Everyone around us gasped, and then went about their business in more hushed tones. One kind soul retrieved the now-dented mouthpiece, and I thanked this person without looking at him.

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And I realized that I don’t even attempt to make eye contact as any of this goes down. I never do. Am I embarrassed?, I kept asking myself days after the realization. It would be ok if I was, but I generally don’t care what others think of me or my son. I had thought myself way past that stage.

After much soul-searching, I found that it wasn’t embarrassment that made me avert my eyes. No. I just don’t want to deal with everyone else’s reactions. I have enough to deal with, and it isn’t my job to comfort/explain/respond to whatever it is you are feeling upon witnessing my son’s autism in full color. It is my job to relieve his anxieties and calm him.

And if I look into your eyes, I will have to deal with whatever I find there.

I can multitask with the best of them, but not during a meltdown. He is my focus, and everything else is secondary, especially the thoughts of others.

So if you encounter a parent like me who won’t look at you in this situation, they may be embarrassed, or they may just not be ready to deal with you. If you are a parent in a situation like this, you don’t have to worry about anyone but your kiddo. S/he’s the one that needs you most, right then. Even if they are throwing hunks of metal at you.

 

Acceptance Begins with Our Own

I have a friend with a young daughter on the spectrum. She regularly posts on FaceBook about her struggles with her daughter, and how she loves her daughter but hates autism. She complains that they often have to leave school events early, and just once she wished she could stay through a whole event and watch all of her children.

I admit that I only have one, and he is relatively high functioning.

I also remember feeling that way.

And I was a single mom.

(I know not everyone will agree with me, as this is a major point of contention within the autism community, and the line drawn seems to coincide with functioning levels. Autism is a struggle for most, and parents will spend our whole lives trying to figure our kiddos out. This opinion is based on my own experiences.)

At some point, though, there was a shift for me. The more “battles” you have to choose whether or not it’s worth it to fight, you begin to see hypocrisy all around you. You begin to question the structure and rules in our society, and how arbitrary they seem. Why do you have to keep your shoes on during a play? Is it really that big a deal if someone wears the same shirt everyday, as long as it’s clean (I’m looking at you, Troy Landry)? Do I really have to worry so much about the guy with the white beard being approached by my child who thinks he’s Santa?

You begin to think about the fundamental difference between children and adults, and how boring we all get. How we lose that sense of creativity and wonder. And how freeing it can be to not have to worry about all of that stuff.

My friend made a comment in her last post about the fact that her daughter needs to adjust to the world, and not the other way around. I respectfully disagree. Yes, we have to teach them to adapt to the best of our (and their) abilities. But. There are enough of us to really make a positive change here, and we have to stop being so hard on our kiddos. We have to start being harder on this cold, dead world that has a vice grip on its arbitrary social structures and rules.

My friend says she’s tired of it (autism), and that she’s exhausted. The fact is, my friend’s daughter will never lose her autism, but the rest of us neurotypicals only need a shift in perspective to allow her to be who she is.

And we need to accept our own kiddos as they are if we ever hope the world to accept them, too.

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Autism Awareness, Acceptance, and Advocacy

Well, it’s April kids.  It’s Autism Something day and month, depending on who you ask.  It’s such a controversy in our community, and it doesn’t even need to be.

Yes, we still need awareness, as is evidenced in our daily interactions with people who just don’t get it yet.  How?  I don’t know.  Maybe they live under rocks.  Maybe they are in denial.  Maybe they are just mean jackholes.  I don’t care.  But I will continue to attempt to enlighten them about my son and his buddies.

celebrate neurodiversityYes, we definitely need acceptance.  Yesterday, you read about someone who screwed up our Friday morning (and added a dose of anxiety that will last for the rest of the school year).  She definitely needs to find some acceptance real fast.  From kids who bully our kids, to teachers who still don’t know how an IEP works, to potential employers.  The world needs to hurry up and get with the program because we are definitely not in the acceptance stage in this society yet.

And yes, we need to advocate for our kiddos, and let them advocate for themselves.  Yes, adults on the spectrum need a national platform, and need to be included on the boards of their own nonprofits.  They need opportunities to show the world of what they are capable, and the skills to communicate their needs.

So whether you light it up blue, or walk in red, just be yourself in gold, or decorate with puzzle pieces, please realize we can’t do this alone, and we can achieve so much more as a cohesive unit.  Let’s agree to disagree on a few things, and consolidate our goals so that we can get to a point where everyone is aware, everyone accepts, and there is no longer a need to advocate.

Autism Awareness is Still Quite Necessary

Autism Awareness

The debates within the autism community continue to rage on, and one of the trendiest arguments to have right now is whether you support Autism Awareness or Autism Acceptance (as if supporting both is somehow not an option).  There are those who will have you believe that the national nonprofits that promote Autism Awareness are not doing enough – “Promoting awareness is not enough!”

I’m here to tell you that this move to the south has proved that we still have a long way to go with Autism Awareness.

I’m not going to generalize about this region, although it is shocking how few services there are here in comparison with where I lived up north.  What resources are here are new, as in within-the-past-few-years new, and I think, “We should be past this shouldn’t we?..”

I’ve communicated with teachers who claimed to have no previous knowledge whatsoever of the types of common autistic traits The Boy exhibits, and how to modify and adjust for that in their classrooms.  New teachers and old teachers alike who have no awareness.

And my struggles with The Boy’s current placement have shown me that his school, although having had autistic students in the past, is still quite ignorant about just what autism is.

So yes, I wholeheartedly support Autism Acceptance – what parent of a child on the spectrum wouldn’t??  But I must say that even today, Awareness alone isn’t a safe bet.  And I believe you have to start somewhere.