Eddie loves to play in his room. He loves to spin for hours in this cushy rocking/ spinning chair. He enjoys having his radio queued up to his favorite tunes, and a toy provided that preferably makes a lot of noise, or works well for percussive purposes. He requires gum for this time, and after it is provided, he will promptly say, “Goodbye.”
My son has been this way for most of his almost nine years. Once mobile, he would often leave any room with people, seemingly seeking out an existence in solitude. He knew what he liked to do, where he could find his favorite things, and didn’t seem to want company. Overall, this has made him appear easy-going most of the time, and a pretty easy kid to babysit.
In many meetings, I have sat and declared that Eddie preferred to be alone. He didn’t like to be around other people. He didn’t want to sit in a classroom with his peers. Ultimately, he just wanted to be left alone…simple as that. However, I recently realized that it wasn’t simple at all…and that realization broke my heart.
Within the past couple of months, I read the book, “The Reason I Jump” by Naoki Higashida. If you’re not familiar, it is written by a young man with Autism who is nonverbal. Through written expression, he attempts to explain the many complicated facets of Autism.
There are lots of dog-eared pages in my copy, but his answer to Q13 in the book, had me instantly in tears. He is asked if he prefers to be on his own, and although the entire page was profound, this sentence stood out in his response: “Whenever I overhear someone remark how much I prefer being on my own, it makes me feel desperately lonely.”
How many times have I said that in front of Eddie! That he preferred to be alone. I can’t even count. I’ve assumed that preference, but in reality, he simply doesn’t know how to be with other people. Since this realization, I’ve made a point to clarify this in meetings with staff, in discussions with family, and in my own behavior around the house.
With that thought in mind, Eddie is now included more than ever in family activities at home. In the past, we might have helped Eddie get comfortable in his room, and then proceeded to play a game with his sisters. We were assuming, as usual, that he didn’t want to participate. That free-time for him would be more enjoyable if he was alone…alone…alone.
Well, this is not happening much anymore. Yes, there are still times when he does need a “break” and some free-time from the pressures of society and daily life. He expresses that need through outbursts that are hard to ignore. We all need those times; our space…time to think…and moments to process our day. But what we’re finding is that the more we teach him about how we play and interact, the more time he wants to be with us.
Eddie is now playing hide-and-seek, tag, and even “Zombie Kitty.” That is the game happening in this picture of him and his sister. He’s coming into the living room often simply to find out what’s going on, and to be an active part of this family. Best of all, he’s showing us how to play his own games.
He’s seeking us out, bringing us to his room like before, but no longer simply asking for gum and music. He pushes us on his bed, sits down beside us, and proceeds to bounce, fall back, and sway while encouraging us to do the same. He is now preferring social interactions…NOT preferring to be alone.
When I understood the gravity of my error, and the years I had sentenced him to seclusion, I was incredibly sad. It is so easy to make assumptions for all our children, but even easier for those that cannot speak up for themselves. I am wrong at times, but for my own sanity, I have to believe it is the solution that truly matters.