We've been looking for a church in our new home town. We've settled upon a choice and are now seeking a comfortable place there. I mean this in the most practical sense. The first thing I'm doing is trying to find a spot in the cavernous stone nave that is not too loud or too echo-y; one that offers an escape route where we can slip in and out as need be without being disruptive; but ideally also where the children can become engaged with the service so that they might actually "attend" to it.
Yesterday, my daughter and I sat in the balcony. This time, I had left C.S. with my husband who was home sick. I was most pleased to be joined by a friend who knew of my concerns and had previously suggested the balcony. Just before the reading, she leaned over to me and quietly said, "Observe him" indicating an older boy in the pew before us.
I was apprehensive, I instinctively worried about any sort of possible judgement. But as the readings began, I was unexpectedly comforted by what she was showing me. Quickly folding his legs criss cross, the boy rocked and made odd noises while gesturing wildly and frantically with his hands and fingers. He kept his voice quiet and his hands close to his body with his back and shoulders curled around himself. His grandparents (I assume) didn't stop him or try to still his hands but only occasionally rubbed his back admiringly. I recognized this immediately of course and quietly explained to my friend, "he's stimming, [C.S.] does it too."
Later, I had a moment to talk with my friend. She is the most understanding woman, which means she didn't understand at all why the boy acted the way he did but she was openly curious and wanted to understand better. I briefly explained more about "stimming."
As conversations do, we moved onto a related topic, a friend of hers who she has difficulty understanding. She confessed she had begun to suspect her friend had Asperger's. I offered two new tools for understanding, the phrase "Theory of Mind" and the explanation that autistics have difficulty taking the perspective of others. A flash of both recognition and relief hit her instantly as she exclaimed, "Yes! That's it precisely. Oh my..."
And I was enjoying these wonderful moments — this caring woman who I am proud to call a friend was now better able to offer understanding to an odd child she didn't know; support to a friend she knew as well as she could; and of course she was being incredibly accepting of me and my family.
Silver lining: I am comfortable enough, feeling just competent enough, that more and more, I find myself looking beyond our family's needs. Bouyed by yesterday's friendly and open conversation, I found an opportunity to act more directly this very morning. Seeing a man in the distance that I had met once, heard about plenty and had strong suspicions was struggling with autism, I made a point of making the detour to chat for a moment and reintroduce myself if need be.
The sad part is that, just as my friend's friend said she had never before been invited to someone's home, I realized how very much this man was feeling isolated. He complained to me about gossip — clearly he feels victimized by it and misunderstood. Ah, but the community of supportive and understanding people is growing.
I have happily realized a new role — of education and outreach. Of course many other spectrum mom's have realized this before me. This was simply my moment, my understanding that I had crossed over to that next level. At the root of this is my conviction that autism will be a life long condition for our entire family — thankfully it is one that is positive now. We are discovering our many strengths and grateful for our different ways of seeing, thinking and acting.