by Leah Kelley
I have been considering the way in which my son, H the Country Mouse, relates to his friend, City Mouse. They have known each other for almost seven years… since they were both diagnosed with ASD. They are true friends. When they are together… there is no social deficit. There is no discernible difficulty in turn-taking in conversation, or interest in each other. They ‘get‘ the social pragmatics. They give each other the wait time needed to process. They are not judgmental of each others’ shortcomings and have few social expectations, and they share a myriad of common interests. Their disability is only other-ability and they share it, embrace it, and are emotionally refueled by it.
As parents of these boys, our families have become very close. It is amazing to spend time with other adults who “get” our kid and see him for his strengths. Even more… it is like the relief of a sigh…. only more so… to spend time with adults when I do not have to explain a thing or worry about their perceptions or judgment. The experience for me is anxiety free, and feeling truly understood revives me and gives me courage and strength. It is valuable for both Craig and I to know that others are on the same road and sharing our journey.
The experience of the connection between our Country Mouse/City Mouse families influences my practice as well. I have an awareness of the struggles that other families face in supporting their children and I have experienced the powerful effect of acceptance and a nonjudgmental stance.
I try to convey this level acceptance and empathy to the families with whom I work, and I sense that it comes as a relief for them. There is the relief that they are not being judged, and this often has families sharing more that they might otherwise have done. There is also the relief that they are not alone, which has been expressed repeatedly to me, and this lessens the sense of isolation, fear, and loneliness that is so often experienced by parents of children with disabilities.
I am so grateful to our City Mouse friends and their amazing boy. I love to see our boys together and I am quite happy to make the lengthy journey into the Big City so that we can connect.
A while back City Mouse gave H a StarWars Pez dispenser. It just so happened that H already had this one, and he disclosed this, but then they discussed how he might save it, unopened, until they were in university together and then they would sell it on e-bay. They discussed how they would spend their anticipated future windfall. Hilarious – charming – and there is a certainty of a future to their friendship that brings me hope and joy.
The freedom and joy of this relationship for our boys is even more intense.
It has me wishing that more of us could pace ourselves with such ease to the place and space of others.
… and sometimes, too, it has me wondering if it is perhaps the rest of us who might be lacking in social skills and sensitivity.
About the Author: Leah Kelley is a K–12 Special Needs Resource Teacher, a parent of a child with ASD, and an experienced primary teacher. She completed her Master’s Degree in Education at Simon Fraser University, focusing on supporting educators in understanding the experience of students with autism. This piece first appeared on her blog, Thirty Days of Autism, and is reprinted here by permission.