Tonight my daughter had a mandatory meet and greet picnic and I was so excited because it was at the park and I knew it would be the perfect environment to entertain her little brother while we worked through all of the paperwork. Heck I even made the mandatory bring a dessert myself--and it was in layers with a crust and fancy decorations. Seriously this in and of itself is worthy of a blog post.
The first time I looked over at the playground equipment Caden was crying. I figured he had hurt himself and ran over. He was hurt alright but nothing physical; of the several dozen children there for the picnic no one would play with him. I was able to convince myself that they just didn't know him so I asked a few of the little girls if they would play with him. Of course with me being a stranger they said yes and then immediately ran away when I turned around to go back to the picnic/meeting.
The second time I looked over and he was still crying, I was still holding onto hope that he had an owie and ran over to kiss and make it better. But no one was still willing to play with him even though he tried in his own way to ask by waving Mario and Luigi in their faces. At this point I realized I needed to take matters into my own hands. I walked about the event director and asked if she knew any of the little kids and she called her own child over and said play with that boy. Now I had explained that he had autism, couldn't approach people, and sometimes played differently but that apparently got lost in translation. The little girl at least ran over to play with him though or so I thought.
The third and fourth times I saw him crying I desperately hoped that he had a belly ache from too much dessert or a pinched finger or a bug bite or something....anything physical really. But each time it was the same heartbreaking story; the kids couldn't or wouldn't play with him.
I was now desperate enough to start going row by row to the parents asking them if they had a small child playing, explaining Caden's autism, and asking if their child would play. Not a single person said yes. I don't know if they were afraid of autism or embarrassed by the different child. I couldn't help but note though that while I had blue eyes some of the parents had green eyes. I don't wear glasses but some of them did. I am 5 foot 4 inches and some parents were taller or shorter, lighter or darker but none of those differences were as important apparently as the flappy child with autism.
I wanted to stand on top of the slide and scream "that flappy child with autism scored a 90% on his placement test for language arts and a 88% on his math placement test." That flappy child is amazing at baseball and works harder in the yard than any child I have ever met. But that wasn't the point was it? The problem was what child doesn't understand how to play and let's not go near the stigma associated with the A-word.
Finally in the last 10 minutes we were there, two children that know Caden showed up and played with him. Caden still admitted that he didn't have all that much fun but at least we had a positive experience to end the night.
On the ride home I wanted to be mad at the parents but they obviously didn't understand. I wanted to be mad at the kids but they are after all just kids and only know what they have been exposed to or taught. I wanted to be mad at Caden's sister but she was doing what a 13 year old should have been doing; she was getting to know her team mates better and having young innocent teen fun. I even tried being mad at myself; why did we even take him in the first place? That's illogical I know as who wouldn't have thought endless desserts and a park wouldn't be fun?
Where does that leave me for the night? Heartbroken...simply heartbroken. My heart feels like it could shatter it hurts so much. Caden's had a few minutes in the water hose in the backyard and for the most part moved on although I'm sure he'll bring the experience up in a few days after he has time to process it all. As for me? My mind is filled with images of my sweet baby boy standing all alone in a crowd of kids on the playground desperately hoping for a playmate.
Tomorrow will be better; it's a new day and we have a lot to celebrate and for which to give thanks. For tonight though I am going to grieve and cry and try to find peace again for my heart.