He runs to make his mind still, to organize himself and to get rid of the noise from this loud, confusing world. The more he's moved, the more he's introduced patterns and rhythm into his routine. Laps around the house are a daily ritual. He's made it more complex as he's developed, but the basics are the same. There is a pattern of movement -- specific foot patterns based on whatever song or chant he chooses to accompany the run, and he can not be stopped until he is ready to be.

This is James, and this is our story.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Following the Leader

He was two. Although it was still a bit light outside, it was way past his bedtime and he was exhausted. We all were.

We couldn't figure out why he was so out of sorts. He seemed fine until we started trying to put him to bed, but each time we tried to put him in his crib he started screaming. He was trying to wriggle out of our hold. The closer we tried to hold him to console him, the more upset he got and the more he fought to get away.

He kept going for the front door. He needed to go outside. I tried to think of what we had done that day that might have set him off. Nope, nothing different. We did an inventory check of all the things he carried around. Everything was where it should be. Nothing was missing. Nothing was left out in the yard.

He kept trying to get past his dad blocking the door. We couldn't redirect him. We couldn't calm him.

We had no idea what it was that he was looking for, but we knew he wasn't going to calm down until he got whatever it was.

Finally, we gave up and opened the door. He bolted outside and went straight for the front gate.

Tony followed him. I stayed with baby Johnny and waited.

James went across the street to our friends'. Tony explained that he had no idea why, but James needed to come over and he now wanted to go in their house. They all watched James run through their house and out the back sliding door to their backyard. He bee-lined for the Little Tykes slide and went straight down.

And his face changed. In the 2 seconds it took to slide to the bottom, he became calm. He allowed Tony to pick him up and he rested against his dad as he was carried home. He laid down in his crib, relaxed.

I realized that night that James was the only one who knew what he needed, so we should follow his lead.

Last year I asked all my friends to wear blue for Autism Awareness Day and think of James. I put a blue light on our front stoop and left it up for the entire month. I put a puzzle piece magnet on my car. I wrote a post about what I thought we could do to educate others about autism. I did all the things I thought I should do as James' mom to help raise awareness and understanding.

But I realize now that I was thinking more about what I needed last year than what James needed. I wasn't following James' lead.

James has never liked to receive any attention. At all. He has always hated when we said "good job" to him or praised him, no matter how great the accomplishment. I think it puts too much pressure on him, but I don't know for sure. He's never told me why.

Lately his little brother has been talking about autism. I'm happy that Johnny is trying to understand it better, but James gets really upset when Johnny brings it up and he tells us in no uncertain terms to stop talking about it.

I'm trying to help James navigate it all without telling him how to feel. I don't know how much he understands because he doesn't want to talk about it, but I can tell it is on his radar. Out of the blue the other day James asked if his friend has autism. When I said yes, he told me that was good because we could bring the friend to our autism open swim at the local YMCA. It is little glimpses like this that confirm we are on the right track. It all just needs to be in his own time, and it needs to come from him.

I should follow James' lead on all of this. I want to make sure that I don't try to speak for him, because he has his own voice. And it is getting stronger every day.

So for Autism Awareness month, I am not going to draw attention to James by having a magnet on my car or shining a blue light on our front stoop. I will continue to support my son and quietly watch to see which slide he chooses to go down next. And I will follow his lead.


Anonymous said...

Love this. I am learning from you and your boys. I'm glad I know them and you.

Lisa said...

I have a lot to learn....this is a great post. Thank you.

Jay Ritchie said...

Great post! Lessons applicable to all of us. We should all follow the lead of every child.

Nantucket Daffodil...living the good life at Prince Snow Farm said...

My goodness how touching. While I cannot say I understand from a mothers perspective, I do understand from an educators perspective, as I have taught science to children with autism in my integrated science class for many years. How touching your tribute to your son.