Despite having a condition for which there is no cure, I’ve long maintained that my son Matt is kicking autism’s ass. Understanding where he was at age two and to see where he is now six years later is amazing. Words really can’t express how proud we are of that kid.
However, not every day is filled with rainbows and unicorns. Or in Matt’s case, trains and “Captain Underpants” books. Autism has an ugly side.
Recently young Matt attended a friend’s birthday party at Dave and Busters. For those unfamiliar, Dave and Busters is essentially a big arcade and restaurant. Though mostly an arcade.
Unfortunately, the games, loud noises, big crowd and flashing lights were a lot for Matt to handle. He immediately became quiet, somewhat detached and chose to sort of isolate himself from, well, everything.
He stood off to the side of the private room where the party took place. He wouldn’t sit at a table, wouldn’t really engage with anyone and certainly didn’t want to go out to the arcade area. When asked what was wrong or if he would like something to eat or if he needed anything – his response was typically a softly worded “No thanks. I’m fine.”
Occasionally he’d get himself a cookie or have some candy, but still insisted on being by himself. He wasn’t crying or asking to leave or causing trouble in any way. He just stood against the wall by himself – for nearly two hours – while the other kids came and went into the arcade, eating, drinking and having an all-around wonderful time.
At one point, he even grabbed a dry-erase marker, went to the wall (where kids were allowed to draw, color and write on) and began writing a song. A song titled “Alone.”
It was heartbreaking.
We tried repeatedly to have Matt tell us what was wrong, what he was thinking, why he felt alone, but mostly we received the same response of “I’m fine.” (He tried to sing the “Alone” song to me but it was basically just the word alone repeated over and over again.)
In the past, this situation might’ve caused crying, a meltdown or an insistence to leave. This day, however, we got the impression that Matt wanted to stay and face his anxiety. That he wanted to remain in that uncomfortable situation for as long as it took to defeat it. And you know what? He did.
Near the time the party was to end, he asked if he could play “Angry Birds”. I assumed he meant that he wanted to play on my phone but no. He had seen an “Angry Birds” game near the bathrooms and wanted to try that out.
So after a slight pause at the door looking out at the arcade, he took a noticeably deep breath, covered his ears, shielded his eyes and walked through the arcade. He was clearly bothered by the whole experience, yet that melted away as he proceeded to play the “Angry Birds” game with a focus solely on killing those pigs – while also spending about $10.00 in a matter of what seemed to be seconds. I had no problem putting another $20.00 on his game card and, truth be told, would’ve dropped another $20.00 if we didn’t have to leave.
But there he was jumping and stimming with happiness. And although it took a couple of hours to finally do so, he stood up to his fears and his emotions and faced what he knew would be a difficult situation.
He may have lost a few battles, but that day at Dave and Busters – Matt won the war. I think it was a breakthrough, actually. He could’ve ran from his fears; let his autism win the day. But he didn’t.
However long it was going to take, he was going to overcome and I think he’s proud of himself. I believe that Matt knows he’s different but with each passing day – he’s proving that he’s just like every one else.