I came running from Diego's school to share something wonderful with you. Something magic just happened! Here is the story:
I religiously spend about 25-30 minutes in Diego's school playground every single morning, from Monday to Friday. I have been doing this since Diego was in Kindergarten. By keeping this routine Diego is consistently exposed to an environment where he can get social clues about how children interact in a spontaneous dynamic. My hope has been that one day he will learn how to connect with other children on his own, without the participation of adults. I believe that adult help is key for Autistic children (which Diego has all the time) but I also believe that it's a positive thing to give Diego the freedom to figure things out on his own, from experience.
Diego is able to engage in play with children from his class and from his social skills group. But when he's in a situation where he doesn't know the children, then he never initiates a play and he doesn't follow kids that want to interact with him neither. That's what I see every morning in the playground. Non of the children from his class go to the playground, for various reasons, so he's there on his own.
Every morning when we arrive in the playground he has the same routine. He walks in circles around the playground. Then he runs following the same path and then he goes up to a little bridge and jumps over and over again. He loves doing that. But he does all of this alone while all the rest of the children are engaged in their own games. There was a time when I actively tried to help him connect with other children but it didn't work so I decided to trust the fact that Diego is a good learned. I think that in order to learn you need some space so I did that.
Sometimes, just to get an idea of how Diego is feelings I ask: Sweetie, do you like the playground? Do you like the kids in the playground? Do you want to keep going there in the morning? His answer has always been YES. But if you see how disconnected he looks from the children in the playground you would imagine that he's not happy over there. The thing is that I had to learn how to see beyond my eyes.
Well, today is the day that I have been waiting for!! It was a normal day, he was doing the usual thing. I was talking with other mothers when suddenly Diego comes running to me. Two adorable smaller kids were having fun chasing him. Diego hugged me and with a mix of excitement and confusion, like expecting some kind of clarification he said: Mom! Those kids are chasing me!! I have been so ready for this moment that I immediately said: That is sooo cool!!! Go ahead and have fun chasing them now! Go! Go! They're waiting for you! So he did it. He started chasing the kids, they were laughing and having so much fun. Then they went to the slide and started playing together and taking turns. Then they run again...For a few minutes Diego was one more kid in the playground, having fun, sweating, smiling, his face was read. His body and mind were 100% activated.
I have visualized this scene in my mind so many times! And today it became real. This seems to be such a small thing but it was HUGE for me! It was a milestone. This is the first time that Diego engages in a play with other kids totally on his own, outside the group of children that he's familiar with. It's too bad that I didn't have a camera to take a picture. His face was so radiant! He was so happy!! I know that this is just the beginning of a long road.
Here is what I learned from this experience:
*Follow your instincts and always do what feels right.
*Be extremely patient and consistent.
*Don't give up.
*Belive in magic and magic will happen.
*Visualize your dreams as if they were real.
*Be ready for what you want so you know what to do when it happens.
*Don't ever believe that idea that Autistic children prefer to be on their own. They do want to belong, they want to have friends, they want to be accepted and they want to have fun. They just don't know how to do it naturally. They don't "prefer" to be on their own, that's what they do because it's just easier or because they have been so affected by their unsuccessful attemps that they decided to give up trying. But very deep within, every Autistic child wants the same things that neurotypical children want.