Acceptance, the Greatest Gift

After three years of making our way in this world with Ninja Cat’s high-functioning autism, we have finally run into my first real taste of – I wouldn’t say discrimination – but someone not willing to try and understand. It absolutely broke my heart for this to have happened to him; but, I guess we should feel lucky for to have taken so long to have happened.

Jigsaw

It was a local art camp. Only four days for four hours each day. Ninja Cat loves art and some formal training, however brief, would be a great help to him. That and it would be a great chance to earn his Artist activity badge for Webelos. When I called to register him and asked about him coming even though he was a high functioning autistic. They said it would be no problem and to bring him. So, I’m left thinking that they will be prepared for him and it would be a great four days of learning about something he’s pretty passionate. So confident, in fact, that I took the first day to go berry picking 45 min away from my house with my best friend – even letting her drive. That confidence soon shattered.

Not one hour into the first day the camp calls saying that Ninja Cat is having trouble and wanting to come home. I told the camp director a couple of quick things to do to help him calm down (give him a quick break and a copy of the schedule) and get back to participating. Apparently, that didn’t do any good, because they call a bit later where I talk to him personally and get him to stay. Again, I told the camp director to get him a copy of the schedule (she hadn’t done that yet), give him another few minutes to get his bearings, and would call to check on him after I finished. Later, he was somewhat better, not great, and he said he could last until I came to get him at the end of the day.

At the end of day, the camp director and I have a talk. Only then do I find out that she was blindsided by his autism (the person I registered through didn’t pass along his difficulties??) and that she admits she doesn’t have the skill set to meet his needs and there was no one there with the knowledge or training to help him. She all but threw her hands up right then, not even willing to hear the tips and tricks I have to help him acclimate. Optimistically, we came to the agreement that it was first day jitters and that he would be better tomorrow. But if not, he would come home early from camp. She even sent me an email over it. I wouldn’t say it was tersely worded; but, it was plain the director didn’t plan on even trying to make any accommodations for him, despite his difficulties. But again, me and my optimistic self knew that tomorrow was going to be better.

It wasn’t. The camp calls before the start time saying that he’s going to have to come home. He had carpooled with his best friend’s mom, who was still there and brought him home. When the three of us talked about it, we came to the conclusion he had just gotten impatient for the day to start and wanted to go ahead and start drawing something. But, the plan was for them to go outside first so the art supplies hadn’t been set out yet. It sounded like they didn’t even really try to get him to slow down and participate with the rest of the group.

Every other time Ninja Cat has participated in anything, everyone there has gone above and beyond to make him feel accepted and welcome. This time it doesn’t feel like it they tried. I admit I’m hurt and upset. I’m trying to see things through their eyes. It’s hard. I wish they could have done more. I wish I could have done more.

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Compassion over Donuts

Ninja Cat, if you’ve read my About page you already know, is a high functioning autistic. He’s almost nine, but essentially has the social capacity of someone who is 6. This makes it hard for him to make or keep friends, understand what to do in situations and conversations and generally connect with the people around him. It goes so far that I have to tell him I am disappointed in his behavior and he is about to be disciplined. (I *never* tell him I am disappointed in him. He knows that no matter what he does or says I love him and always will.)

At school he receives Cognitive Behavioral therapy. The way I understand it, it is basically a Pavlovian style of learning that teaches a correct behavior and gives a reward for it. It’s been used for years in all sorts of deficiencies. I think this is great. Kids naturally want attention/rewards/treats, so rewarding positive behavior and ignoring most negative behavior  is a great way to show people like Ninja Cat the way to maneuver through his relationships – not just in school but as he grows.

Part of this is learning about compassion for others. It’s taught in school and in our church. We go to a NACC affiliated church and use only the Bible as our authority. No extra texts, no creed but Jesus, no dogma. And part of that is to be compassionate to one another, especially those that are less fortunate than ourselves. Fortunately, Ninja Cat has taken this to heart; albeit, in his own way. His favorite way is to cheer up crying babies when we are our doing our errands. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.  So there are times I explain his autism, there are times I do not. It depends on the vibe I get from the family.

So it made my heart swell recently when his compassion extended to people he’s not even seen.

We were in Wal-Mart recently. It was 7:30 in the morning.  I was picking up 44 dozen donuts for our regular honor’s breakfast. Honor’s breakfast stresses me out in the first place and shopping with them usually does in the second. Gratefully, Danger Boy was able to find the napkins without me having to all but take him there while Ninja Cat stayed with me and helped count the dozens and dozens of donuts. Let’s just say I’m in my own world and hoping the kids just keep up.

Then we head to the check-out line. I could have used the self-check I guess; but, I ended up in the 20 items or less. Before you scream that I had 46 items (44 dozen and 2 pkgs. of napkins), the donuts were on one UPC label. I’m swiping my card and Ninja Cat finds a nickel on the floor. He turns to the gentleman behind us and asks if the nickel is his. The gentleman says no and it’s ok if he keeps it.

But this is the part that gave me chills and almost made me tear up, honest. He tells the gentleman that it’s OK he wants to use the money to help the sick kids. Then, he promptly goes over to the LeBonehur Children’s Hospital bin and drops the nickel in the slot. Now mind you he’s been looking for ways to save money for varying items and projects.  But he decided to give it away ‘to help the sick kids’.

What possessed him to do this? I don’t exactly know. I am hoping that the therapy he’s been receiving at school and the reinforcement he’s getting at home and church is part of it. I’m also hoping most of it is his fire of compassion igniting and lighting the way to make connections with more people along the way.

Autism parents, what are ways you teach compassion in your children? I’d love to know and I’m sure other parents in our situation would love the ideas.