Monday, April 28, 2014

Guest Blogger Tracy Miranda: Walk Beside Me, Be My Friend

You might know this guest blogger as Calormom on Twitter.  She is one of my best friends and I am so honored to be having Tracy Miranda sharing her son's experiences of living on the spectrum.  Tracy is a loving mother, wife, school employee, volunteer in her son's classroom, and consultant for Origami Owl.  

Don't walk behind me; I may not lead. Don't walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.   ~Albert Camus

April is always a difficult month. Every year there is a new hope that the autism community will come together and shed new light on our cause. Yet, every year there just seems to be more fighting and less understanding. Pro vaccine vs anti vaccine, awareness vs acceptance and even fighting over the color blue and the puzzle piece. I wanted to write an inspiring piece about how we need to respect each other and how our opinions are our own. I have to believe that no matter who chooses to support what, at the end of the day each parent believes they are doing whatis best for their child. Who am I to argue? I decided instead to write about a different kind of inspiration. My son and his best friends who are changing minds about autism every day.
When we first received Conor's diagnosis it was the month before his third birthday. He had been in early intervention since he was 20 months old due to speech and fine/gross motor delays. He went five days a week for over a year before he received his diagnosis as he was getting ready to transfer into the school district. He was then in a pre-k class for a year and a half. He learned a lot and made big improvements. He spent the first year playing next to the other kids but didn't interact with them much. At recess he would walk the perimeter of the play yard and never try to play a game with other kids. When he became more verbal he could name the kids in his class, but didn't play with them much. There was one exception, a girl named Bella. They often stuck together and tried to play together on play dates. But she was a year older, a little more advanced, and it was obvious he didn't really know how to play yet. He followed her around a lot and it was the first time we saw a connection to another peer. They would hold hands, dance together, run, play and she would try to sneak a kiss now and then. Since she was older, she moved on to kindergarten and they saw less and less of each other. She has since moved out of state so they don't see each other, but they still love seeing each other's pictures and hearing stories about how they are doing.

He had made so much progress in his pre-k class that the next year he transferred to a special day class in our district specifically for high functioning kids with potential to mainstream. It was there that he met the friends that would change his life, Eli and Lilly. Eli had actually been in the same early intervention program as Conor for a few months. However, neither of them had the skills to be friends back then, so it was almost like they were meeting for the first time. After school when we picked the kids up, the other parents and I soon realized this was something special. We planned a couple play dates and the kids always had a blast. We used to marvel at their progress when we watched their friendship blossom. None of them had ever connected to other children like this before.

That first school year, they did so much together. We had more play dates than you can count. They went to the zoo, went on hikes, went to T3restaurants and went swimming. They went to the pumpkin patch, celebrated Hanukah, Christmas, birthdays and saw the the Easter bunny. All the while, sharing laughs and making memories. Last summer our families went on a weekend vacation together and the kids had the time of their lives. We stayed at a vacation home of a friend of mine. The kids had been talking about having a sleepover and we told them they were a little too young still. This was the best of both worlds. The kids got to dance in their pajamas together and have movie night, yet still sleep in their separate rooms. It was a magical trip.

This past September Conor and Lilly moved on to kindergarten and Eli just missed the age cut off. We were worried that Eli would be devastated that his friends wouldn't be in his class anymore but he has thrived. Conor and Lilly are trying to make new friends but they do struggle. They don't know what to say or how to act.  One of Conor's classmates came up to me one day and said "Conor's being mean." I told her that Conor doesn't really know how to be mean and asked what he had done to her.  As it turns out, she was upset because he told her she couldn't climb up something and, since she could, she didn't like his remark. All of them have some trouble connecting to their neurotypical peers. If he had said that to Lilly, she would have told him he was wrong, and then shown him. She wouldn't have thought another thing of it. The connection between these three friends is undeniable. There is a level of comfort and understanding they have with each other that can't be duplicated. They all have sweet dispositions and love to be silly. The three of them have made such memories that I know will last a lifetime (and not just because their autism gave them ridiculous memory skills). We still have play dates as often as possible and their bond has never been stronger. We recently went back to see the Easter bunny and it was the first time in a little while that all three of them had been together at the same time. They hugged each other, danced and played, and walked through the mall holding hands.

I wanted to share their story because I want to give hope to those who may need it. Here are three children on the spectrum who are proving people wrong. They have a bond like siblings; they fight and love like brothers and sister. They do love to push each other's buttons and can certainly make each other mad. None of them have siblings of their own, so we feel that's one of the reasons this friendship bond is so strong and important. They are learning that sometimes one of them needs a moment to be alone, and that's ok. They are learning to ask how to help each other when someone is hurt or when they are upset. They have empathy and genuine love for each other. They are learning to share, take turns and compromise. They are learning that time apart doesn't diminish their bond. They are proving that autism doesn't define them. The friendship they have is easy, when so many things in their lives are hard. I love Eli and Lilly as if they were my own kids. I hope this is the beginning of a lifelong friendship. I think they're off to a great start.