Our family usually gathers for that day. My parents provide amazing food – a New York specialty involving marinated meat and fresh bread – and we all get to chat and see relatives we haven’t seen in months.
Obviously, the stuff of nightmare for someone with Asperger’s Syndrome. But my boys gamely went along – it is only once a year, after all – and we kept the visit short.
A curious thing happened: my son turned into a clown. While he can converse one-on-one, he tends to get a bit manic with large groups like this. However, this time he wasn’t at all interested in one-on-one. He wanted to perform for an audience.
But that isn’t what a family gathering is about. It’s about quiet conversation with one person at a time, or with a small group of three or four. There’s a lot of back and forth, questions, small stories, laughter, and compared experiences. It’s not the time to say, ‘look at me’ and dance about wildly in the living room, especially if you are no longer a toddler.
However, It can be hard to carry over conversational skills learned in one setting to another. Especially if it goes from small group to large gathering, from child to adult, or school to home. What happened here, in addition to the sensory overload, was that my son was thinking of the group as nameless, faceless ‘audience’. He lost sight of the individual. And the individual is the one we converse with, relate to, and enjoy.
Thankfully, a family friend was present, one of the wittiest, cleverest people I know. After reining my son in a few times – and feeling like the worst mother ever while doing so – I told him about how funny she was, and how smart. And told him to please take a break from being the clown and have a good conversation with her.
And then I left. Just walked away. Because it was time for Mommy to leave and let her son stand on his own.
She was fantastic. Later, I heard back from several people about how much fun the two of them had, making jokes and talking. When we had to go, my son didn’t want to leave. He wanted to stay and talk. And laugh with our friend.
I’m so very grateful to her for taking the time to enjoy my son. Every time someone selflessly interacts with him or any child out there who needs conversational practice, it’s a gift. So to all of you who have done this, for a long time or only moments, thank you.
As for the Fourth of July, something magical happened. Our son learned that finding conversation in a large gathering can be rewarding and fun. And he can’t wait to do it again.