Turning Point

It looks like last week’s episode was a turning point of sorts, but not as extreme as I had feared it might be. Javan is still doing well, all in all. He’s been different since that day – moodier, higher energy, non-stop talking, more given to defiance and aggression, more sensitive to sensory issues like bright sunlight or itchy bedsheets – but it all just comes in little spurts. So we’re watching him for mania, but he’s definitely not fully there yet and we may still get lucky and avoid it altogether.

In an attempt to avoid a bout of full-blown mania, we’re just trying to stay as consistent as possible with nighttime sleep schedule, but letting him skip naps since he suddenly doesn’t need them right now, placing as few demands on him as possible, and keeping him as active as possible due to his increased energy. Being active can be a challenge in the Texas heat, but we’re spending as much time as possible in his grandparents’ pool and going for walks or bike rides some mornings.

We’ve also been taking advantage of three different towns’ summer reading programs, which include lots of free kids’ events to choose from. Any event that he shows interest in, we’re there. This gets us out of the house, around other kids, listening to other adults, learning about various topics, and just plain old keeps us busy. Javan typically lasts about 15 minutes at each event, hardly ever the whole time, but it’s better than nothing.

Today’s event was a karate demonstration, or at least that’s what we were expecting. It turned out to be more like a free sample of a karate class. Javan chose to wear his toy knight’s helmet. The kind with the full face guard with eye slots for vision. I knew this was just his way of feeling safe and protected in an unfamiliar situation. He uses helmets and masks for that purpose often and will usually remove them to show his face when he becomes more comfortable.

So we walk into this tiny town’s community center for the first time. It’s just a big open room with a hard concrete floor and a few unmarked doors off to one side. After our 20 minute drive there, I needed to use the restroom before the show started. As we came out from the restroom, the karate teacher waived us over and informed me that as I was asking a lady where the restrooms were a few minutes earlier, he had asked Javan to remove his plastic knight’s helmet and Javan had told him no. He said this with such absolute conviction that he had been wronged that I very nearly laughed at him. Instead, I said, “He didnt take it off because he doesn’t trust you yet.” I was going to add that he has autism, but before I could get past “He’s,” the karate instructor interrupted with “Asperger’s. I could tell.” He must be incredibly perceptive to have been able to glean that about my son without ever having seen his face or hear more than the word “no” fall from his lips. I’m sure with that level of perceptiveness, he also picked up on the flash of humor behind my eyes at his disbelief that any child would dare tell him no. I explained to him that Javan would probably just watch from the sidelines, but that if he chose to participate I’d have him remove the helmet.

Now, I’m sure some of you are annoyed that I didn’t have Javan submit to the karate instructor’s command to remove the helmet, or are at least wondering why I didn’t. First and foremost, I didn’t want Javan to have to give up the thing that was making him feel safe. If I’d made him remove the helmet before he was ready, he’d have instantly gone into fight or flight mode and we would have had to leave immediately. But a close second is the reason that this man had not been given authority over my child and should not have expected him to obey without question. He is a karate instructor, but he’s not Javan’s karate instructor. To my son, it felt like a stranger was asking him to remove an article of clothing that he was uncomfortable removing, and he said no. A stranger asked him to do something that made him feel unsafe, and he said no.

I’m proud of him. I’m releived that he will stand up for himself in those situations. I’m releived that he will not blindly accept unearned authority. Special kids like mine are often targeted by sly sexual predators, and I’ve often wondered how my son might react to someone trying to groom him for inappropriate exposure or touching. Of course, this man was in no way suggesting anything inappropriate or preying on the weak. My point is that this person made my son feel unsafe by placing a demand on him which he did not have the authority to place, and my son denied his pseudo-authority and kept himself safe. He said no.

I believe it’s important in the society we live in to teach our kids how and when to say no. My son knows the people that he must obey without question: parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, teachers, etc. And even with those people, including us, his parents, he knows that there are boundaries when it comes to his body. He knows to listen to his instincts.

We did sit on the sidelines for the whole ten minutes before Javan decided he was bored. During that time, the librarian came over and whispered questioningly in my ear about whether I thought the karate instructor had been “too gruff” earlier when he was talking with us. Apparently, Javan and I weren’t the only ones put off by his authoritarian style. She then invited us to come back to any of their summer or holiday events. We will gladly accept her invitation.

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