Though the calendar says mid-March, trees are blossoming, daffodils are dotting the landscape, and pansies have been potted in outdoor containers all over the shopping centers in Northern California. Temperatures have magically climbed into the upper 70’s. Children in Mrs. B’s first grade class are planting and cultivating the seeds in the class garden. Even the little boy, who was afraid of seeds at the beginning of the school year, now plants them, and picks lettuce growing in the school garden to feed the class turtle.
With the emergence of warmer weather have come glorious, outdoor recesses. Time for children to play together. The little boy, who echos and laughs to himself, year round, manages a smile every day on that playground, even if no one is around to share it. He has a “best friend”, a sweet girl, who enjoys playing with him. But beyond that special bond, he’s begun playing with a few of the boys. He climbs the monkey bars and shoots hoops. More importantly, whatever he does, he’s happy.
The carefree pre-spring days of first grade. A time of sweet innocence and warmth. A time when everyone is considered a friend.
Just before Daylight Savings Time, this little boy was invited to a birthday party by another boy in his class. This was the first time, in the first year with these new peers at a new school, that he received such an invitation. Bittersweet that. But the birthday boy was new too. He started in the class late in the year, and he was always willing to play with the different little boy. The birthday boy asked his mom to invite the little boy. The little boy was excited. He’d be going to a place where children bounce on big slides. The party was the same day that the class was told about the boy’s autism, after school, on a Friday night.
While there, at first, he played alone happily. Then, one or two boys would pass by, play alongside him a few minutes, and move on. They would cheer encouragement to the little boy to go down a slide, or to shoot a nerf gun. They supported him. They were nice. And the little boy smiled and laughed. The party was a success.
At home, the little boy was watching his mama, with interest, as she had begun reading some books. The little boy saw the books were about a boy named “Harry Potter”. He saw his mommy watching movies about this boy, too. The little boy was mesmerized when he saw “Harry Potter” using what he learned was a “wand”.
A “wand” with a light on the end was purchased. And the little boy did this:
The little boy was captivated by the wand. The mommy found it cute and endearing. “Is Harry Potter a good guy or a bad guy?” he asked one day. The mommy told him that Harry Potter was a very, good guy. Now and then, the mommy would find the little boy with the wand, practicing, calling out, “Expelliarmus!” or “Petrificus Totalus!” The mommy was amazed at how fast the little boy picked up such difficult pronunciations, but then the mommy, who was very busy, did not think anything more about it.
Back at school, the little boy’s tutors would report to the mommy that the little boy was doing well at recess, playing basketball, playing on the swings, or monkey bars, with a couple of kids. Mom was happy with this news. Any peer play is sacrosanct.
One day, the mommy stood in the bright sun, waiting to pick up her little boy after school. After a few minutes, he came running over to her, as he did every day, his cheeks flushed and his hands up to his ears, in anticipation of heading into the parking lot, to face his fear of sounds while getting in the car. The tutor, though, this time, held him back to tell the mommy a story.
At recess, it seems, something happened. The little boy found a twig on the playground. He picked it up. Without a word from anyone, the twig became his wand. His best friend picked up a twig. Immediately, it transformed to a wand, as well. And with a few magical waves, the little boy taught the little girl some “spells”. Soon, the little boy, who did not talk much, had a group of boys and girls, holding wands, casting spells and playing together. And the little boy, who took it all to heart, assigned the roles of good guy and bad guy to each. And so, on the playground, as the flowers bloomed around them, so did the little boy.
The first graders played magically for over a half hour, imaginatively, with no instruction, no prompting and no interference from adults. The little boy was their leader, having started it all.
Who says wands are pretend? Those twiggy wands conjured up some pretty special magic that day.
Thank you J.K. Rowling. I doubt very much you knew that your books would reach a six year old little boy with autism, like this. Just so you know, Harry Potter is still casting his spells and by doing so, he’s giving one little boy some very pleasant future memories.