Monday, February 10, 2014

Statements of Heartbreaking Fact

A friend of ours, A, has come to visit, while she helps care for a sick friend of hers whose apartment is too small for her to stay in.

She hasn't lived nearby in close to a decade; N doesn't really know her.

For his birthday (this is related, I promise), N asked for an got a manual typewriter. He thinks it's the coolest thing; his favorite thing to do with it is to type sentences and then ask someone to come type something back to him. It's like Primitive Instant Messaging.

This was his back-and-forth with A last night. Clearly, N is all about the honesty.

N: How are you doing today!!!!!!
A: I am fine. I am so happy to be here with you.
N: I like that you are here with us. First I didn't want you here, but now I like you here.
A: I am glad to hear that. Sometimes when you meet someone in person, it makes everything better.
N: I really like you a lot. I hope we become very best friends. From N Middlename Lastname.
A: I know we will get along famously!

This morning, they resumed.

N: I like you very much and I wish you can stay here for ever.
A: I really love it here. It is warm and sunny. Right now it is rather cold in my town, in Colorado. The dogs slept with me last night and it felt so cozy!
N: Do you like our home and dogs and do you really like me a lot…
A: I really do like your home and dogs. And I really really like you a lot. I wish my son was with me so he could meet you. I think you would get along well.
N: I don't think your son and I would get along, because I am afraid of meeting new people.
A: I think after you met him, you would change your mind. It is scary to meet new people.

When I read N's last line, my heart broke. Just a little. Because…how could it not? But I was also really proud of him, for being aware enough, for putting it out there, for owning his feelings. That's not an easy thing, for any of us.


There's been a lot of that sort of thing lately, actually. Recently, we started listening to an audiobook together during our drives to and from religious school twice a week. I chose Wonder, by RJ Palacio, to start us off; it's about a boy with a facial deformity who is about to start going to a mainstream school for the first time in his life and is worried about it, and how he learns not so much to fit in, but how to stand out.

Near the very beginning of the book, the main character--Auggie--introduces himself, saying that he feels like an ordinary kid, even though he knows that "ordinary kids don't make other ordinary kids run away screaming in playgrounds."

"Yes, they do," N says, quietly, not entirely to me, maybe not at all to me.

I pause the audiobook.

"What do you mean?" I ask.

"You know," he says, already uncomfortable. "Ordinary people DO have people running away from them. Like how the kids at my old school used to say I had cooties, and then run away from me. Like MAX." His voice grows nasal, disdainful, his eyes rolling. He's just mimicking, though. He would give anything for Max to like him. He'd give anything for all of them to like him. He loves being liked. It's another of those autism myths that are so far from the truth it's ludicrous.

"Do you really think of yourself as ordinary?" I ask.

He shoots me a look. Of course he does. It's what he wants to think. I can't get him to see that ordinary isn't so great; ordinary isn't the goal. Not at all. Not even close.

"I don't think of you as ordinary," I say. "I think of you as EXTRAordinary. As special. In the best way possible."

N wasn't having any of it. "Can we just listen some more now?" I look for the please, shy smile, but he's not there. He wasn't smiling or proud. He was just done with the conversation.

And so I turned the book back on, and we listened some more, and I wondered once again just how he sees himself. And how long it'll be before he really starts to believe me when I say he's special in all the best possible ways.

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