I know that Tate, who appears outwardly typical in appearance, just, well, isn’t. His brain works in mysterious ways.
When our Tater Tot is excited, he flaps and volume control goes out the window. When he’s anxious, he paces, he flaps, he pulls his underwear waistband, he emits some odd sounds…a mix between a hum and a pained cry. So, yeah, not “typical”.
We walk the fine line that so many who live with Autism do…the one between encouraging more socially acceptable behaviors and allowing your child/brother/nephew/grandson just be himself.
Our family knows that this is Tate. It’s who he is, and how he reacts. We all, 2.5 y.o. Cole included, know how to talk Tate down from his anxiety. We all know which stims work best when…and we are starting to decode his scripts…even Jake, who has language issues himself, knows that Tate’s scripts mean something.
I have been preparing myself for the inevitable. The questions from kids in the neighborhood, at church, at the store, at the park….why does he do THAT? However, last night, as my boys frolicked in the Summer-ness outside, I felt blindsided.
We were outside with two neighbor families. The one family has a daughter Jake’s age, and 2 sons, each a year behind my two younger boys. The other family has a 3 y.o. daughter and infant son. The kids had been chasing each other through the yards and the cul-de-sac out front. They were all having so much fun. And Tate? He was keeping up, having fun and, loving being in the thick of things.
Somehow we ended up in our neighbor’s back yard. They have a small playset (since it’s only their 3 y.o. who plays out there currently), which has one toddler swing and a regular swing. The older neighbor girl, the one Jake’s age, began to swing on it. Cole was in the toddler swing.
Tate ran toward us. He made a beeline for the regular swing. He started to flap. I could see the anxiety catch up with him. Between the 7 kids roaming around, and Tate’s desire to swing on the unavailable swing, his inability to cope became obvious. He lost his words, and the emotions took over. He flapped. He paced. He made that noise.
Me: It’s ok, Tater. You can have a turn soon. She’ll let you swing when she’s done.
Tate: hruuuahhhuuuh. I’m fine. Huuurrmm. Huuurrmm. (Flap, flap, flap)
Me: Settle down, sweetie. It’s ok. (I reached out and gave a deep pressure hug.)
Tate: I’m fine (his script) (Flap, flap, flap)
A: Mrs. Hope, why does he do that?
Me: The flapping?
A: Yes. Why?
Me: (hoping the panic didn’t show on my face) Well, A, Tate reacts to anxiety differently than we do. Like, when we get excited, or really, really want something, but aren’t sure we’ll get it and we just wring our hands or think things quietly in our heads, well, Tate shows that feeling with his hands and feet. We might feel that way, but we do it inside, where Tate puts it out there.
Me: It’s not bad or anything…just a different way of handling his emotions.
A: Yeah, I guess. (Gets off the swing.) Hey, bud, you can use this now.
Me: Thanks, A.
A: Sure. He really wants it more than I do….
Aaaannndddd, exhale. I am very lucky that one of my first explanations was to a girl who is (1) very mature for her age, and (2) fairly understanding of younger kids. I am sure she had more questions for her mom later, but she was content with my explanation for the time being…
Now to refine my explanation for future questions, looks, and judgements…
By the way, while we discuss Autism in our house, we really haven’t said much to other kids. Tate has never asked, and if I tell him, I don’t know how much sinks in. Jake asked once, but then he was like, oh, that’s Tater.
Our friends know, but never ask if we want to talk to their kids about it…and I never know if I should bust into a lesson about neuro-diversity.
Sometimes this parenting gig is hard!