Social Gymnastics…

Yesterday was my son’s first day at gymnastics.  I was pretty excited about the whole little kids’ gym idea.  It would help him learn balance, develop strength and interact with peers.  It was only 10 minutes from my office.  Class was one hour.  It fit the tutor’s schedule.  They had accepted other ASD kids into their programs and did not bat an eye when I explained his need for an aide. I had timed it out to leave to get there right on time.

Of course, when I was readly to leave, he had just then pooped his pants.  Why, oh why, do they do it when you have to leave?  I rushed to clean up, knowing my timing was now off.

As we got in the car, I asked my son’s tutor if she had told him where we were going.  She had told him but not that morning.  Neither had I.  He was calm but asked where we were going.  He was a little nervous, but walked right in with no crying and no fighting.  This was terrific.

Once inside, my son was still fine with it all.  He did not protest.  He did not appear frightened.  He was observing his environment.

The building that houses the classes has an open reception in half its area.  The other half is a gym full of mats, uneven bars, and low and high balance beams.  Separating the two rooms is a wall of windows.  Chairs are set up so parents can watch the class.

The little guy and his tutor were taken in to the already started class.  The kids were in a circle on a large red mat.  Again, I nervously awaited him to bolt, to yell out or otherwise make his presence known.  Nope.  He sat down with the tutor.

Watching from a folding chair,  a teacher introduced me to a mother sitting next to me.  It was socially awkward.  The mother proceeded to share the class routine and asked me which child was mine.  “The boy,” I responded as it appeared, at first glance, that he was the only one.  I asked which child was hers.  She told me it was the girl in purple with pigtails.  She said that the only other boy, “Jack” would be happy to see another boy in the class.

I nodded.  I did not verbally respond.  I realized, since she knew this other boy’s name and class procedure, she probably knew which one was my kid.  Plus, I was not nearly as certain “Jack” would be “happy”.

I sat back, hoping she would quit talking to me, and observed.  Perhaps this woman was the most kind and generous person ever.  Perhaps, she had someone in the family or her circle of friends like my son.  Clearly, I had no idea.  And yeah, just the same as she should not judge my son, neither should I judge her.  But, I’m not going to lie to you.  I dread strangers asking.  I dread potential negativity and so, awkwardly here, I opted for avoidance.  Me, the person trying to increase awareness, to educate, to spread the word.  I avoided!  I wussed out of what could have been an enlightening conversation for both of us.

Why?  Well, because I don’t want everyone focusing on my son, checking out his differences, placing him out there as an “autism awareness” display.  I wanted him to have fun.  I wanted him to play, to interact, to blend.  Was I silently manipulating?  Was  my son’s disability just so obvious to everyone?  After all, he was the only one with a tutor, constantly prompting his participation.

The other mom must’ve caught on, or simply, by observing my son, decided she: (a) probably couldn’t “friend” me because my son was “different”; (b) didn’t know what to make of my son’s “different” behavior or how to approach me or what to say or (c) simply was doing her own thing.  I want to vote for (c) but since we were sitting next to each other for an hour and no conversation occurred after the first 15 minutes, my cynical self thinks probably (a) or (b).

My own observations of my son left me with mixed emotions.  On the one hand, I was elated that he came to the class, entered a group of students already sitting down, calmly sat and joined them and did not engage in behaviors that would cause him to stick out like a sore thumb.  On the other hand, there is a face he makes that is what I would call his wondering face.  This is it:


This was the face he used a lot during the circle time portion of gymnastics.  Of course, he was brand new in class.  He’d never been there before.  He was in a group with kids he did not know.  He was with two teachers he did not know.  They were talking about things he did not know.  So, to me, his behavior, and this face was fantastic, especially given his usual strict adherence to routine.   It was only disconcerting because it heightened my awareness of his differences from the other kids.

Asked questions as a group, many of the girls yelled out answers.  My son silently looked around the room.  Because I know him, I know he was listening.  He was absorbing all that was going on around him.  He just does it differently.  He responds slower or not at all.  He knows a lot of the answers.  He just doesn’t shout them out. He may have also been wondering why the hell he was there.

I admit too that it’s all new to me. This was the first time I observed him in a setting with his “peers” since he started preschool before his diagnosis.  Clearly, he has made tremendous progress since that day.  Then, he wandered away from circle time, touched things that were off limits, tried to turn on a computer, completely ignored the teacher and played with the door.  Today, he sat, was relatively quiet (but for the soft self-talk), and he participated in activities in a meaningful way. He was able to somewhat imitate the other children.  It really was impressive.

But the social awkwardness of regular parents versus me leaves me feeling odd.  You know, it’s that I’m-different-because-my-child-is-different feeling.  I want to say I don’t care but I do.  I want to be mad but I’m not.  I’m sure it’s as awkward for them as well. They don’t want to ask, why is your son looking away?  Why is he talking to himself?  Why can’t he follow direction?  Why is the adult in there with him?

Overall, my little boy did great!  He ran around, jumped, tumbled, walked the balance beam.  This all leave me wondering how to be a better parent and a better advocate.

I need to walk a balance beam too.  I need to learn some social gymnastics.

The balance beam



About solodialogue

I'm a lawyer and the mom of a 6 year old boy with autism. I work part time and spend the rest driving here and there and everywhere for my son's various therapies. Instead of trying cases, I now play Pac-man and watch SpongeBob. I wear old sweaters and jeans and always, always flat shoes to run after my son. Yeah, it's different but I wouldn't change it for anything. The love of my child is the most powerful, beautiful and rewarding aspect of my life.
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7 Responses to Social Gymnastics…

  1. Big Daddy says:

    For us, the social gymnastics got easier over time. Now, we couldn’t care less about “fitting” in with the regular folk.

    Btw, the pondering / wondering face is adorable.

  2. Lynn says:

    I still feel awkward with the typical parents as well, but I’m not really around them that much either. I think that these situations are nothing but good for our kids…sometimes I think that they are harder for us!

    • solodialogue says:

      I think the social situations at least at my son’s age of 4, are still more difficult for his mom than him – for sure! Glad I’m not alone with that awkward feeling. Just wish I knew what to do…Thanks for dropping by Lynn!

  3. Meg says:

    Karen- This is such a positive experience. How wonderful. Your son seems to have made great strides. I am glad that you didn’t deny, nor cover up for your feelings about being the mother of a kid who appears to be marching to a different drum. That is painful. I am just thinking that the blessing is taking you out of the hell of ‘comparing’ kids, in other words, competing. Life is about competing and winning. It is also and more importantly about opening our hearts. I have become so busy making sure that I go through each day harmlessly. Before I was immersed in this, I was going over to the other person’s mind, evaluating their thoughts and reactions, feeling hurt when my gestures of kindness were not reciprocated or acknowledged.
    I now live in a culture where I have assimilated, but the locals will not acknowledge that. It is more comfortable for me to be the ‘foreigner.’ Being a foreigner is fine when a tourist arrives, or a visitor needs guidance, but it is inappropriate for the Japanese to treat me as a visitor when I have lived here for 22 years and am completely comfortable with the language. And yet, they will sometimes make the encounter about ‘their’ English ability because my face is different. This is exhausting but, I am not going to take on a whole civilization’s complexes. That woman may have been thinking about dinner, and she may very well have been thinking, “This lady’s kids is well, a little weird.” Either way, it is in her sphere of thought. Is her sphere of thought worth losing our peace of mind? No. If I were you, I might say nothing. I may just say, “my son has been diagnosed with a mild form of autism and we have been through rigorous therapy to help him adapt and fit in with kids his age.
    This class is a kind of test for our efforts. Look at that. He really has made progress.
    Oh, it feels so good when you can see your child’s growth doesn’t it?” If she is a mother, she will chime in for sure. Okay – this is today’s rant.

    • solodialogue says:

      It is exhausting, isn’t it? You are right that we should not take on other people’s complexes. I know this in my mind but this is a matter of my heart. It is hard to say because I don’t want to hurt him by her complexes, you know? So, maybe she is nice, maybe not but if she is not, and I confirm my son’s differences, her daughter might treat my son differently and send a domino effect through the class. Not fair for my son. So, I keep my mouth shut. So how does that advance my cause to spread awareness without risking my son’s ability to integrate in class? It doesn’t. Is there a way to protect him and spread awareness? I have to figure that out. Love your analogies, Meg!

      • Meg says:

        I get it Karen. The issue is: how to spread the message about autism (and this is BIG), and not have that act become part of the problem. I really really do see that. Gotcha too about the head heart issue. Hmmm. Great stuff to think about and my heart goes out to you.

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