Saturday, August 23, 2014

Brotherly Love

Ever since Jake got his autism diagnosis, at the age of two and a half, we had always hoped that he would eventually be able to interact with his siblings and friends.  All we've seen along the way however, is parallel play, where kids play next to one another, but not together as in taking turns.  The parallel play is more common of younger children's behavior.  It's also a very prominent autistic behavior, where children are more comfortable playing on their own - not having to take part in a dialogue, or go out of their comfort zone.

Every once in a while, I would ask his teachers whether or not he's been interacting with his peers.  The answer has usually been that he's still parallel playing next to other kids.  I was of course thankful that he at least doesn't go off on his own in a corner and isolate himself completely.  Inside, there was always a part of me that hurt after hearing the term parallel play.  The parallel play continued over the months and through the precious early childhood years.  I subconsciously must have tried to not attach an emotion to that feeling of not yet-ness.  Over time,  it turned into an understanding that he's just not ready for it yet.  I had just lowered my expectation and became eventually completely okay with it.  I had accepted it and I felt that it was going to be okay no matter what because I love him. 

During his ABA therapy sessions I had requested our therapist to reserve some time to have Jake have some social time and play with his siblings, presenting a natural situation that would enable him to learn how to interact with other children.  His interactions would then be highly reinforced by praise, high fives, tickles and his preferred activities, if he had typical play-like of taking turns and interactions with his siblings.  He didn't seem to have much interaction with Max, but was slightly more interactive with Miriam.  Over the months and the couple of years that we had incorporated this into his therapy, not much had changed and not much progress was made.  He typically had a difficult time tolerating this part of the therapy.  It made sense, since interacting with others is not natural to kids living with autism.  Any new thing taught in therapy had to be tolerated and repeated for so long until it was eventually not so new anymore.

Last week, during our long ten hour road trip home from an autism family summer camp, something wonderful happened.  Our youngest, Max, was so bored that he started tickling and demanding attention from Jake.  Jake didn't actually mind it and played along with Max for a very long time.  Other than some DVDs that we had on and off throughout the trip, this was the main activity for the boys.  This was the very first time that we had ever seen the boys playing together, and we were delighted to be witnessing this very special first.  I had hoped that it would be the start of many many more such situations of the boys playing together.  Typically, the twins would play together and Jake would do his own thing.  This week, during several evenings, Max would instigate rough housing and tickling with Jake and they would bounce on the yoga ball together and giggle; simply, music to my ears.

It is interesting that once we accept everything about autism and special needs and we are fully okay with where our child is in his or her journey, that the unexpected can happen.  Sometimes, when we are so anxious, and we're working so hard to make it to every single therapy session, present the right kind of situations for our child for proper special needs learning to take place, set up hopeful play dates, and try to be the best possible parents that we can be, that there is almost too much pressure placed on our child, as well as ourselves.  After all, we are learning the ropes as we go half of the time.  We are not well rested most of the time, and we juggle a ton of things simultaneously.  What I'm trying to say here, is not to give up hope.  Don't feel defeated when a situation doesn't turn out like we planned or hoped.  Our children bloom and blossom at their individual pace.  Certain things, like the brotherly bonding that I had shared here, will happen in due time; it happened in a very natural non pressured way, when we had least anticipated it.  Here's a shout out of encouragement to anyone who's facing these type of scenarios and challenges.  Hang in there, and keep putting your loving heart out there.  Even if our kids don't seem to respond to it now, in an obvious way, they know that we love them deeply.  For them, that is the most important type of connection and learning.  As we plant our seeds in our family garden now, who knows the potential of what is still yet to bloom?