As I visited with a friend about the start of school, I could hear him starting to have trouble. It's not a single-sense recognition. When he hits, yells, cries... when he's losing control... it hurts us too.
Quickly excusing myself and taking a deep breath, I hurried down the short hall to his side. Squatting down at the table, patting his back a bit with my hand, I heard he was having trouble getting used to a change in transition. I thanked someone I consider one of THEE most amazing people I've ever encountered for being who he needs, and started to try to help him.
Remember, I usually can't stop these things. Usually, I can just stay by him, speaking in a calm voice, using few words. Or that's the aim anyway. I'd be lying if I said I'm a champ at dealing with meltdowns.
Normally when this happens, whoever is around just kind of either carries on, not judging or bothering us. Some will carry on but keep an eye on us, staying in earshot in case I need help. Both are invaluable reactions.
One little boy in his class approached us. With wide eyes and the sweetest, most innocent demeanor, he said "I've been in his class before. He gets CRAZY!"
I smiled, unsure what else to do or say, and said simply (and as kindly as I could muster), "I know."
Because I do know.
As I made my way to the service, all I could do was fight with the temptation to be devastated. He called my kid crazy. He called my kid CRAZY!
But you know what? Yeah. He used the word "crazy." But he didn't say Ryan IS crazy. He simply walked up to me, not knowing I was Ryan's mom, and said something he thought would make me okay with what was going on. And let's not forget that this is a little boy we're talking about here.
Once the initial emotional ouchie of hearing "crazy" used to describe Ryan's behavior, my mind scrambled with the thought that I missed a teachable moment with that child. What could I have said to help him understand?
Then it hit me. I can't explain it. Yes, I can give the clinical reasons why I THINK he hits. I can give all kinds of perspectives from blogs and books and doctors and therapists. I can tell you how it feels for me to watch and hear it, and I can tell you what his chest looks like at the end of the day when he's had a rough one. But do I really know WHY? And why would I act like it's no big deal when this is one of the most if not the most frustrating, painful, potentially crippling part of autism for us?
As it stands, I'm glad my response was what it was. Not too much, not too little. And as this child (hopefully) continues to grow alongside Ryan and our family, he will maybe not be afraid to come to me with questions. He's obviously not afraid to get too close to Ryan, because he had to get pretty close to be able to speak to me.
I do worry what Ryan heard and how he processed it. But that's another reason why I'm glad I didn't make a big deal of it. I'm definitely not suggesting that it's okay for adults to walk up to someone struggling in that way and say anything other than, "what can I do?" This was a child, expressing to an adult what he has witnessed. I choose to believe that he was being honest. I choose to let go of the right to be upset that the c-word was used in reference to any part of my kiddo.
You know what else? I'm thankful that I can do that now. That after years of being stared at, glared at, and having the occasional rude comments and the more common whispers, my security in who I and who Ryan is in the eyes of God can overcome the need to defend.
There have been times all too recently when I was half afraid to leave the house, and more afraid to be around people. Too afraid of the pain of stares and insensitive, ignorant comments to step out and try anything. And that still lingers in many ways. But there is hope and comfort in realizing that my best is all I can do, and Ryan's best is all he can do.
Thanks be to God for holding my tongue and comforting my heart, and for allowing me to see the honesty in a young boy's eyes... and that, for that moment, I experienced the most honest, pure form of empathy imaginable.
And don't you worry, church friend-parents who are reading this... I have no clue who this kid is or who he belongs to. But I do know that he was a sweetheart.