This past Saturday night my family and I went dinner at a friend’s house with our kids. We stayed for three hours, and my severely autistic son made it almost two hours before he donned his coat to be taken home. We ate too much, drank, laughed and learned from each other.
It was our version of the Christmas miracle.
If anyone had told me even a year ago that Jeff and I would take our two autistic kids over to a friend’s house where she has two autistic kids of her own, I would have laughed in that individual’s face with glee. For the past six years we have struggled to keep Justin at family gatherings outside of our home, despite the fact that he is comfortable with his family, and despite the fact that we’ve brought every snack, toy, and DVD we could comfortably fit into my husband’s SUV. Sometimes we didn’t even make it through the appetizers before my boy was bringing me his shoes, and then the struggle would ensue to make it past the entrée. If you’re wondering why we didn’t just bring two cars and have one parent take him home the answer is that most of our family members live at least an hour or two away, plus I didn’t want to set a precedent where Justin could go to a celebration and be expected to stay only seventeen consecutive minutes.
Plus, if I’m entirely honest, I actually like all of our family members and enjoy a good party. Leaving before dessert for me is exceptionally cruel.
So we’ve worked on this issue over the years. The wonderful BCBA at Justin’s school came up with a shelving system that we trek to every family gathering, a compartmentalized plastic contraption that houses activities for Justin paired with the immediate reinforcement of his favorite popcorn. It’s helped considerably, and we generally get through dinner before “the handing of the shoes,” which I’ve learned to be happy with.
I’ll admit I usually get dessert to go.
This past Saturday I planned out the evening with the precision of a general executing a battle plan. Our friends have a wonderful tv room where we ensconced the boys with a sitter, plying them with popcorn and snacks and meticulously chosen DVDs. They both made it beautifully in the room for almost two hours, and true to form once my son had finished eating his jambalaya, he made his way into the house ready to depart. In retrospect next time I’d hold off on dinner a little later (trust me, there were more carbs in that room than in a real movie theater, they were not deprived,) but I was thrilled he lasted as long as he did. We had our sitter take him home where he was perfectly happy, and our youngest stayed behind in the cool movie room with his kindle, where he was perfectly happy too.
As were his parents, I assure you.
I know that most parents of an eight-year-old and a twelve-year-old don’t think twice about taking them to someone’s house for dinner, but for us it’s a major milestone, one I can’t wait to recreate another time. I have to share with you that many outings with Justin still conjure up a serious level of anxiety for me (over the years it has lessened, but is still my unwanted companion,)but except for checking on them once or twice I have to say for the first time at someone else’s house I completely relaxed and enjoyed myself. My friend has two adult children on the autism spectrum, and to say she’s seen everything would be the understatement of the decade. I knew no matter what happened there would be no judgment, just complete understanding and probably a multitude of ideas to enable us to prolong our stay. Those hours were precious to me and my husband, an island of respite in the increasingly complicated world that includes two autistic kids.
We felt relaxed, understood, wanted.
We felt like adults.
I’m stealing from Disney now- it was magical.
And I can’t wait to do it again.
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