Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Music Class

Ethan loves music. He's the kind of kid who wakes up first thing in the morning and shouts "Hooray!" because that day is music class at school. For awhile he and another little girl were taking a class with a music therapist, but then the girl had other things to do, and honestly, the class is rather expensive, so we stopped. Since then I've been looking for another opportunity. In the midst of that I got an email about a free 2-week music class offered at a local community center for kids on the spectrum, and jumped at the opportunity.

The other day we walked in right at the stroke of 10am. The first thing I saw was a kid sitting on the floor playing "Temple Run" on his iPad. Ethan plopped down beside him and immediately began to watch.

The next thing I saw was an older girl refusing to enter the room, hands gripping the doorway, while her dad silently pleaded with her. I thought of Ethan and the playgroups, back when he was younger. The scene was achingly familiar. Another woman sat next to me, whispering fiercely to her little boy, who was about Ethan's age and not cooperating. "You WILL sit in the circle," she was saying. Yes, been there, I nodded inwardly.

Everyone got into a circle and the class started. "Miss Emily," another music therapist, was excellent and obviously used to working with kids on the spectrum. She wasn't phased at all by the limited back and forth conversation she was getting from her class participants. I spotted a little boy from Ethan's school and another family I knew from...somewhere. We sang some typical and no-so-typical kid's songs. Some kids got so excited they ran around the room, yelling, flapping their hands. One sweet, enthusiastic boy loved to repeat back whatever Miss Emily said. Many kids needed urging to share their names, even if they were say, 8 or 9.

As we sat and sang, the question presented itself.

Do we belong here?

This used to bother me more, the frustrating fact that when it comes to finding specific ways to get Ethan involved and interacting, he's sometimes a little too on-the-spectrum for a regular activity, but a little too typical for ASD-specific activities.

In a group of typical peers, unless they're trying hard or have adult assistance, there's a chance that Ethan will get lost in the dust. His reaction time is slower when it comes to communication (kids don't want to wait!). He sometimes doesn't know quite what to do or how to follow directions without help. He still often prefers (or gives the impression that he prefers) to be alone.

In an autism group Ethan is comfortable and communicative -- with the adults there. The other kids are obviously not usually making any kind of effort to talk to him. No one is modeling the skills he needs to learn and practice. Sometimes in fact they are making noises or body movements that Ethan finds distracting, a little frightening, or even tries to imitate once he gets home.

What to do? What to do?

I used to think there was only one answer, that it was all or nothing. But as I sat there that rainy Saturday morning, I realized I could also choose to see this as an opportunity. I could, rather than thinking "there's no place where my kid fits" (or even, "there's no place where I fit") I could see all I had before me.

We have the autism groups to spend time in that kind of place where it's okay to just be, where Ethan doesn't have to work so hard, where I can connect with other parents and where no one bats an eye if my kid doesn't say hi or look someone right in the eye.

But thanks to Ethan's milder form of autism, we are also blessed with the chance to expand his world and delve into typical get him around kids who will demonstrate how to play and interact, and where I can be around parents who I might also connect with -- and maybe through our story, help them to understand autism just a little bit better.

There is no one or the other. There is each, with its own blessing and opportunity and chance to make connections and learn and grow. If I really think about it, how can I complain about that?

No comments: