I've been meaning to ask about this, and since there were no other parents clamoring for attention at that very second, I brought it up.
"Hey, L," I said, "why sideways hugs?"
"Oh," she said, "we're trying to teach him a little bit more about appropriate touches...like putting your hand on someone's upper arm to get their attention, and stuff like that."
I grimaced a little. "You think he's getting to an age where it's not appropriate for him to be hugging grown women like that?"
"Oh, no," she said, looking surprised. "It's actually more about the kids. You know how he is...he keeps hugging his friends in the middle of group, or wrestling, and we're trying to work with him on that."
You know how he is? Yes, I do. Or I thought I did. The child I know has pretty much never initiated body contact with his peers. I'm fairly certain that he's never even touched another child in his class. But at group he's hugging? So often it needs to be addressed?
I stood there and grinned...and grinned...and grinned at L, who looked confused. When I explained why to her, she smiled. "He did tell the group today that he likes coming here after school, because this is where his friends are," she said.
Can a heart swell and break simultaneously?
* * * * * * *
My friend A often joking chides me about my laser-sharp focus on N's social deficits to the exclusion of everything else. "If he was found in a heroin den," she'll say, "your response would be, 'He was sharing needles? Appropriately? With his peers? Cool!'"
I can't really deny it. He's hugging and wresting his friends and disturbing the group? Cool.
* * * * * * *
There are times, many times, when--despite my all-encompassing quest to get N diagnosed on the autism spectrum--I still feel isolated from the autism community. I read books, descriptions, and they don't fit my kid, they don't fit my experience. I'll flip from feeling like I have no right to complain, because so many have so much more to deal with than I do, to feeling like N's getting the short end of the autism stick--all deficits, no gifts. (If you missed my self-pitying rants on this subject last week on Twitter, you are lucky. I'm embarrassed for myself.)
I've been trying to find books in which he might 'see' himself--books that might explain why he struggles, and that he's not alone. He seems like he's on the cusp of understanding, but yet, he's not quite there. (Sometimes, my life is nothing but a Parenthood episode.) But I can't find the book that speaks to me, which I fear means none of them will speak to him, either.
Sometimes I even wonder if this diagnosis is right. Sometimes I feel like we're out here all alone, like there's no one who can share our experience, because our experience is that unique. Like we're going to have to figure this out on our own, without the community that supports so many. Not because they won't support us, but because we have no right to ask for it. Because we're frauds, interlopers, pretenders.
(The ASD apple doesn't fall far from the tree, if you know what I mean.)
But then, despite my doubts, and despite his lack of intellectual understanding of his challenges and what they mean, N shows me the truth. He's made a friend at school--a girl from the special day class who is mainstreamed into N's classroom for a couple of subjects. He's starting to become close with another boy who is in RSP with him. And he embraces the group of kids he spends his Monday afternoons with at the occupational therapy center. In fact, as it turns our, he embraces them literally.
He's found his comfort zone, his people, his community. And, if watching N and his friend T say goodbye to each other while I talked with L yesterday was any example, they embrace him as well.