Sunday, October 9, 2011

Brown's Harvest - A Progression

Every year in early October, we go to a "pumpkin patch" in town that's not far from the airport. It's your typical fall-in-New-England place to visit, with a little corn maze and playground, hay bales to jump off, an ancient fire truck to climb on, hay rides, cider donuts to munch, and of course, pumpkins (and mums) for sale.

The first time Ethan came along, he was 10 months old. He couldn't do much besides stand in the Little Tikes play house and throw hay around.

The second time, Ethan was 22 months old and we had just received his autism diagnosis the week before. Ethan didn't want to do much. He sat most of the time in one of the wagons they provide for hauling around flowers and pumpkins, then went on the slide again and again.

The third year, Ethan was almost three. The afternoon sun was in everyone's eyes and rather irritating. For him, the sun was so distracting he found it hard to play at all. We didn't stay long.

The other day we returned to Brown's Harvest once again. Ethan will be four years old in a few months. For some reason he cried that the place was "scary" when we pulled into the parking lot -- and then proceeded to have the best.time.ever.

He "drove" the old firetruck. He and Anna soared off the hay bales, landing with comforting thumps in the hay pile below. He ran through the corn maze with glee. And the best part? The absolutely beautifully simple but amazing part, was that for the first time his visit to Brown's Harvest involved other kids. They began to run with him and Anna through the maze. They played hide and seek. This other little boy who was 5 became their "friend" for the afternoon. He followed the kids to the hay and the fire truck. He pulled Anna, then Ethan around in the wagon and then Anna pulled the two boys. At one point I heard Ethan calling to him, "Boy! Come down the slide!"

Was Ethan actually playing alongside kids for much of the time rather than with them? Absolutely. Was he annoying them with his obsession with the "dead ends" in the maze? No doubt. Did he have trouble actually answering the kids' questions unless they were short and simple? Yes. But this year for the first time ever, Ethan's fun involved other people.

There are people who are frustrated when, after years of therapy, their kids have come so far but are still so, well, autistic. There are moments I feel that frustration, too (so he's talking non-stop now but why so often does it have to be asking me to spell things or read signs?). But to me the most difficult aspect of autism, the most painful part to witness as a parent, is not the quirkiness or repetition but the trouble people with ASD have making connections with other people.

To see my son being able to do that, on his own level, but at not even four years old, makes my heart soar.

...kind of like Anna, off a hay bale...

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