There seems to be a fine line, invisible and intangible, that forms the barrier between “regular” children and Autistic ones. One that you can feel through your whole body the closer you get to that line. And when you stand, straddling it, dividing attention between the sides, your whole body thrums with the nervous energy of it.
Though the children on both sides look the same, they’re different. As I go through each day with one foot in both spaces, I am overwhelmed.
It’s that line that dictates what is okay and what is not. On the “regular” side we look at a child that is obsessed with dolls, homemaking, dress-up and think they’re just “girly” there is nothing wrong with their specified interests. Oh, they’ll go play cars with their brother or Legos and it doesn’t really matter that they make the cars into mommies and babies or the Legos into a dollhouse, they’re still playing, expanding.
Then you look across the line at the children obsessed with letters, things with wheels or motors, blocks. And the obsession that looks so much the same is very, very different. A block can only stack it can never be a car. A car is a car it will never be a mommy. If a sister needs someone to make baby noises for their doll or throw the fake baby a birthday party, well, that’s not in the allowable group of toys. Dolls are shunned, physically removed from the play area, they are not invited to the playdate.
This is one of the first things we noticed with Max. His inability or refusal for expanding his play. He takes the girl’s plastic dolls out of the bath when it’s his turn, they’re not allowed even on the rim of the tub. Tubs are for pouring only.
We try to get him interested in soft toys, “oh! Hug the baby Max! This is your puppy. Puppies say ‘Woof!'” And Max looks at me with skepticism in his big brown eyes, the ones that say “You are insane, aren’t you.” but he takes the baby from my outstretched hand. My heart soars for just a moment Will he hug it? Maybe he’ll hug it this time!? only to crash to the ground a moment later when he throws it out the bedroom, slams the door shut behind it and claps.
And still I push for that diversity in play no matter how many times I fall to the hard ground, battered and bruised I pick myself and the puppy back up and try again. Because that difference means there’s more to this than just a dislike, there’s an inability. It is what we will start working on with his additional therapies start. It is something that marks him for a place across the line.
And then there was this morning. This morning I didn’t crash. This morning Max took the stuffed toy cat from his sister and hugged it. He made a kiss noise and crushed it to him. We grabbed his stuffed elephant, the one my mom made him for Halloween in lieu of candy and he hugged that one, too. He imitated his sister gently patting the animal’s back. He swapped toys with her and hugged some more before returning to “his”.
I soared. Bedhead and only a few sips of coffee, still in my pj’s I soared above that line. For a few minutes everything was right with the world. And when he was done with the doll he didn’t throw it and I didn’t crash to the ground.
This time I floated down.