Sunday, May 20, 2012

Just One of the Girls

It was another softball Saturday, and I was dreading taking Katie to the ball field.  Although it was a beautiful May day, the weather was going to be hot and sunny, and we were scheduled to be outside watching softball from early morning until late evening.  I went ahead and packed the snacks, the sun shade, plenty of water, the I Pod and several pizza pamplets for Katie to read, but I knew it was going to be a nightmare for everyone.  Fortunately, my mother-in-law offered to hang out with Katie for most of the day, so she only had to sit through one game.  But the next morning we had 2 more games, and the weather was just as hot and sunny.  We repacked the car and hoped for the best.  When we got to the ball field, however, Katie was very excited to see one of her friends from school!  Her older sister plays on my oldest daughters team, so she was there to watch her.

I never know what to expect when a "friend" of Katie's is around.  Are they actually her friend, or does she just label them as such?  Are they merely a classmate who doesn't know too much about her?  Are they familiar with her quirks and her difficulties?  Are they going to be nice to her, or make fun of her when no one is around?  I try to get a feel for their personality before I let Katie go off and hang out with them.  Will they feel comfortable with her, or is she going to be "bothering" them.  If she does something off the wall, how are they going to react?  Whenever Katie is around other kids, I usually hover like a hawk, waiting to swoop in and save the situation, or explain Katie to them, or something.  I want other kids to like her and want to hang around with her, and usually the more information you give people, the more they understand and accept her.  For example, if you tell people, very casually, that Katie is talking to her "pretend friends", and work it into the conversation that she is autistic, they will hopefully not feel uncomfortable around her, or wonder what she is doing, and who she is talking to.  I have no problem striking up  a conversation to explain her actions when we are out in public, if people are around and she is doing something goofy.

So here we were, at the ball field, with her "friend" from school.  I approached the friend's mom and introduced myself.  The mom knew all about Katie, from her daughter talking about her from school.  Katie is in a class with her, and the girl helps Katie out at school.  According to the mother, this girl is very fond of Katie.  So Katie tagged along, to what had now become a "softball sisters" group, and they hung out on a beach blanket, talking and eating snacks.  Later on they went to the park, now with my youngest daughter in tow.  I tried not to hover, not to circle around and interrupt their teen time, but I was so curious as to what kind of conversation they could be having.  I only know Katie as my daughter, so I don't know how other kids view her as a friend.  How they perceive her or what they think about her.  I am always surprised as to how gracious other kids are with her.  How accepting they are, without even knowing that they are being so generous.  I wish I could clone these kids and make a million more, because having real friends is the absolute best thing for Katie.  She did not whine once, or ask for snacks or drinks, or complain she was hot the whole time that she was with them.  She almost becomes a different kid herself, more mature, more in control of herself in so many ways.

Every time I think I have Katie's future all figured out, all planned out and pictured in my head, I am once again reminded that I better forget it.  Each passing year she surprises me with how far she progresses.  Not only academically, but socially and emotionally as well.  Two years ago she was in an all autistic classroom, mainstreamed for a few hours each day with no real friends.  Now she is in a regular middle school, going to most of her classes with the general population, going to dances and sleepovers and getting phone calls from friends, going to be a member of the student council and honor society.  What's next?  I can't even begin to imagine.  Things that I never thought possible have been accomplished, so the sky is now the limit for her.  When I watched her sitting with these friends, she was just one of the girls, laughing and talking.  Sometimes our Adventures in Autism have nothing to do with Autism.  Sometimes the adventures are just simple things, normal things, like hanging with friends.

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