The Tale of 2 Dinner Parties tells the story of two different parties and two very different sides of of my 17 year-old autistic son, Red. He can present as a mature, creative, loving, and caring soul. He can also be an argumentative, impulsive, loud, ball of teenage angst, attitude and defiance.
Depending on the circumstances his insecurities can get the best of him --thus bringing out the competitive side of his nature. When he feels like he is not winning at this self-imposed competition, we see more impulsiveness, lack of self-control and attention-seeking behaviors. This side of him is exacerbated when he is surrounded by his entire, immediate family, his little brother who takes every opportunity to point out his flaws and his father, who demands his respect. He competes for the alpha-male position with his dad and his brother. Me? I just generally annoy him and require him to do too many things that he does not want to to.
We can also see this side of him in the high-school environment where he is surrounded by peers. There, we also see this self-imposed competition. He wants to be like everyone-else and sees himself as different, and therefore --unhappy. Subsequently, we see a lot of negative behaviors. The only way to keep him out of the downward spiral is to have him heavily engaged in positive activities, that add to his self-esteem, such as working with peers with more severe disabilities or being engaged in his first love, video-editing.
In is the second Tale of a Dinner Party, we are invited to the home of one of my fellow autism bloggers Phat Jaye of "Find My Eyes" . Jaye has two children, precious Jade, age 3 and Jack who is 6. Jack is on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum, with many behaviors and ways similar to the way Red was at Jack's age. We thought it would be a great idea to get the two boys together in hopes that in some ways they would identify with one another. I also love meeting children on the spectrum because of the unique way that they see the world. Each one of them are like precious snowflakes --specially created human beings.
Jaye and I met online through a bloggers group on Facebook. We connected almost instantly. We are both kind of witty, smart-ass writers who are willing to reach out, share and help a fellow autism parent in whatever way that we can. I will also admit, I have always enjoyed having males as friends in my lifetime. However, the opportunity to do so has dwindled since I got married, moved to Austin and became a full-time mother. I work at home. I write and provide personal care services to my children, my mother and my husband. I do get involved in volunteer opportunities, most of which leave me surrounded by women. What can I say? I love my sister/friends and have many that I am extremely close to…but sometimes, women come along with drama that I don't need in my life.
|Me and my friend Phat Jaye!|
After connecting with Jaye, reading his blog and getting to know his 6 year-old son Jack, I also wanted to meet the woman behind Jaye --his wife Julie. They seemed like an awesome team of parents who are doing everything within their power to meet the needs of their children. This includes Jaye being a work-at-home dad while his wife Julie works as an attorney. Julie and I also became personal friends on Facebook, thus getting to know each other a little better.
|Me, Julie and Princess Jade|
I have quite a few friends, both male and female who work at home so that they can be more readily available to their children. This includes my brother who does a helluva job playing soccer dad to his two-youngest children. What can I say? I love a fella who is man enough to put his children first. It's not easy putting your own career goals on the shelf for a while, so that you can be there, front and center for your kids. A man who takes care of his kids and who cooks! Now that is sexy! I think Jaye cooks. I've seen pictures of his grilling prowess. He didn't cook the night we came for dinner. But I still love him!
So back to the party …when we first arrive, Jaye gives me a big old-bear hug. I introduce him to Red and I meet 3 year-year old Jade, the woman in charge of the house. Julie hasn't come in from work yet. Jack is chillin in his room, with his IPad after a hard day of summer school and behavior therapy. I can't wait to meet him! Dad prods him to come out and say hello, which he does with a bit of hesitation. I mean who cares about company when you've got your IPad right? Shortly afterwards, Julie comes home and we hug like old-girlfriends. I fall in love with her. Instantly. The warmth of her heart shows in her smile and in the way that she greets me.
We pop some wine and everyone sits down at the table to eat together. Julie and Jaye are engaging conversationalist. What is really awesome, is that they engage with Red about high school, friends, and his interests in art and video editing. Jaye identifies with Red's hatred of all things high-school, telling him that he really didn't get into the people all that much when he was there and couldn't wait to get out. He tells him that college was a much better place because he started to meet more like-minded people who shared many of the same interest.
Me? I am fascinated by Jack and Jade, their youth, and innocence. I try to engage in conversation with them. They are both beautiful redheads, Jack with blue eyes, and I believe Jades were a shade of hazel green. Julie and Jaye made sure that Jack plugged in to us and engaged in conversation with Red. It was a touching moment when Red told him, "I have autism too." It was kind of like…it's cool man. No worries.
Now don't think that this party was completely behavior free. Like Red, Jack does not always appreciate parent directed activities. He wants to do what he wants to do. I love the fact that once Julie came through the door, she took over with the kids. It wasn't like…I worked all day. I'm tired. You've been home all day. You deal with the kids. They didn't just allow the kids to do whatever they wanted, and not do what they did not feel like doing, to include socializing.
When Jack starts getting upset because he wants his IPad and doesn't want to talk anymore. Julie takes him to his room, and has a little chat with him. When he returns, he has a few questions for both Red and I. He asks them, actually makes an effort to make more eye-contact, and awaited our answers. Once he is done, Julie is all too happy to give him his Ipad back and he is just as happy to get it.
Huh! I think to myself. This is what I mean what I say parenting looks like. I gotta get me some of that!
No doubt, this is a benefit of the behavior therapy that they have on board at this early stage in Jack's life. We didn't have the benefit of the proper diagnosis and early intervention therapy for Red or Blue. They both had speech therapy, as they were speech delayed. They also had some Occupational Therapy, early on to address some developmental issues. However, Red wasn't officially diagnosed with autism until age 12, in the 6th grade. Blue was diagnosed shortly thereafter, at the end of his 4th grade year.
After Jack goes to his room, Julie and Jaye give Red the floor to talk about whatever his heart desires. We talk about everything from high school, to music (rock & roll, heavy metal, and of course, Christian rock). We talk movies, videography, editing and art. Jaye is a published writer, I beg him to show us some of his work. We talk about Red's goals post high-school.
We even discuss a little religion. Yep! Red has to bring his Christianity into almost every conversation. When it comes to Aspergers, there are no taboo subjects, no filter on what comes out of his mouth. But it is fine. We all roll with it. I am just thankful he doesn't bring up girls and sex! That is in the forefront of his mind these days. Much to my dismay, he brought this up at our last dinner party with friends. Ugh!
Red revels in the positive attention. He presents as a mature, creative, thoughtful and caring soul. This is the other side of his personality -the side that I hope will prevail someday. There was no anger…no competition from his brother, or his father for attention. It was all about him, Jack, and of course the boss lady, princess Jade. Julie and Jaye saw Red as a peer role model for their son Jack. Can you imagine that? My son? A peer role model!
|Red with his new friend Jack|
This is the side of Red I hope to see more of once he graduates from high-school. He is such a great person when put into the right environment. He seems to do so much better socially with adults, or with people who are younger than him. Julie and Jaye took the time to get to know him. They showed sincere interest in the way that he sees the world. They asked him to draw for them and sign the drawings that he made. He showed them one of his editing projects online. They praised his work. They didn't seem to mind his dominance in the conversation. They got their words and questions in when they could. They were patient. They were kind. These are traits that he won't find in the average peer of his age.
And I must say, he is blessed with a couple of really good friends, who do get him. They love and accept him for exactly who he is. He is also blessed with a number of adults in his life, who stand with him and behind him. They look at him as a loving soul…with a good spirit. They see beyond some of the behaviors, they actually understand some of the anger. They don't judge him. They mentor him and let him know that he is okay the way that he is.
Before we leave, Jack and Jade are dressed for Bed, but they come out to say their good-byes. Jack has a burst of energy and he is jumping up and down, talking excitedly, I think it was something about the moon or the stars. Before we head to the car…he gives Red and I a great.big.hug! My night is made. Yes. We have certainly made some new friends.
Thank you Julie, Jay, Jack and Jade for loving and accepting my son. We will be here to watch Jack grow into his full-potential as an adult on the spectrum, who will be more than okay because he has parents like you behind him. I hope that sooner than later, you will be able to see Red do the same.