Friday, June 20, 2014

Isaac's Friends

It is ironic that Isaac has over 500 facebook friends.  It is wonderful, but it is ironic.

One of the primary domains that autism affects is the area of socialization.  A deficit in socialization is actually one of the things noted when a person is evaluated for autism.

We humans are social creatures.  We are meant to interact and we seek opportunities to do so all the time.  It is that social nature that drives us to achieve those first few milestones.  As babies, we respond to social entreaties to learn to reproduce sounds, form them into words and finally talk to those around us.  Our social nature drives us to walk to mama, use utensils like a big kid and learn to share love with those around us.

That's what makes autism's affect of socialization such a nasty thing to a young child.  There is little to no desire to please those around the child.  There is no social reason to imitate.  

Isaac never minded being cuddled but he didn't really seek out the opportunity.  I still remember getting on the floor to play with my baby and Isaac looking at me with a look that said, "Do you mind?"  I still say I was the only mama of a six month old who took up baking and embroidery.  I tried.  Lord knows I tried.  I spent so much time on the floor attempting interaction with my son that my knees wore thick calluses.  I sang Raffi songs, read board books, recited Good Night Moon, played orchestrations with kid instruments, pretended, played, interacted, begged, held, hugged .... and nothing....except that little annoyed look.  Mothers of other young children who obviously knew much better than I offered their sage advice as to how to better bond with Isaac.  I tried all they suggested for surely the difficulty was with me.  Everyone else seemed to have it figured out.  And then I painfully discovered that it wasn't about me at all.

It was about Isaac and this newly named but not new aspect of my son.  It was about his autism.  Things made sense.  Autism does not much care for others.  It is narcissistic in the extreme.  Autism sees people as tools.  Autism made my son only seek me out when he needed to use me to retrieve a cup or something to eat.  Autism held his tongue as I sang songs designed to encourage language and desperately repeated "Mama, Mama."  His first real words were demands for things he needed, "Cup", "More", "Video".  We were thrilled to hear any words at all.  I think the first time he said and meant "Mom" was when he was five.

That sounds sad to say.  It isn't sad to Isaac.  It was and is to me.  But its not about me.

Autism sets everything on its ear.  Autism redefines everything.  "Friend" has a different meaning for Isaac.  Isaac's need for friends and socialization is different than mine.  It would be easy to look at Isaac and determine that he is lonely and that he is suffering from autism.  Honestly, Isaac is not lonely and does not suffer from autism.  Isaac is sometimes bored when he cannot get out and do things but Isaac doesn't mind not hanging out with others.  Isaac has never suffered from his autism.  He has only suffered (in his mind) from the stupidity of others around him (usually me and Sam) who do not have the ability to clarvoiently understand what he wants at the time and then respond to it.

It would be easy to assume that Isaac's lack of social opportunities makes him sad.  But, we are imposing our neurotypical (the politically correct word for those of us without autism) perspective on the boy.  Autism is a neurological disorder.  It is pervasive and affects every piece of who Isaac is.  Autism is certainly a spectrum disorder meaning that individuals with autism are affected at different levels.  Isaac is severely affected.  His desire for socialization is much less than yours and mine.  He does not particularly like to be around others.  He has learned to like parties because he associates them with cake and ice cream and all sorts of goodies like that.  Still after he has eaten, which he does quite quickly, Isaac again retreats happily into his world of veggies.  He will indulge those around him if they are willing to join him in watching his videos and singing his songs but that's all.  Isaac's autism is quite narcissistic.  I'm not criticizing.  I'm merely explaining.

I have always felt a need to accept Isaac for who he is.  I want to respect his personhood and his preferences as much as possible.  Socialization is important for Isaac in that he must learn to tolerate people and to successfully interact with them enough to fulfill what is necessary for him.  He needs to know how to interact politely with community helpers and folks who want to interact with him.  He needs to know how to imitate to acquire new skills.  He needs to know how to seek company if he desires it but that's it.  We as a society tolerate shy people.  We can let Isaac have his space too.

A friend to Isaac is someone who is willing to slow down and be quiet.  A friend is willing to give Isaac undivided attention to activities they would find redundant and boring.  A friend will do calendar time with the boy over and over and not complain.  A friend will list out the videos Isaac wants written down.  A friend will sing Veggie Tale songs and will not muddle the visit with what to Isaac is too much pointless conversation.  A friend will accept Isaac for exactly who he is.  A friend will then help the world translate Isaac and interpret for others Isaac's needs and wants.  Isaac has been blessed to have had a few friends.  They have earned a spot in his vocabulary.  They have made an impact on the boy for their total love and acceptance of his personhood.  As Isaac's mama, I am thankful for those that Isaac would call friend.  I love him enough to let him keep to his own definitions of friendship and love.

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