Monday, March 5, 2018

Just a Glimmer

We've had our share of fails when it comes to the kids and extra-curricular activities. Actually we've had mostly fails. With Anna alone we tried gymnastics, dance, Brownies, sewing, 4-H and now theatre. Thankfully, theatre has stuck. Ethan has only been interested in sports, and that alone has had its challenges. Until this year he's been fairly adamant about not trying anything else, and we haven't wanted to push it.

Don't get me wrong -- I am not a parent who is overly concerned about signing my kids up for activities. I don't worry so much about them being well-rounded or needing to know now what they want to be when they grow up. In our case, it's really a matter of asking them, at least once they're getting into upper elementary school, to try to do at least ONE thing that gets them out of the house and out from behind a screen.

With Ethan I'll admit there is a little douse of added concern involving areas of interest and how he might find something that would also help him get a job one day. I don't like having to think like this when he's 10, but I feel as if I have to. While we don't always need to be drilling it into his head, he needs to be practicing things like handling disappointment, eye contact, learning to do something that isn't his preferred activity, or just broadening his mind beyond the things he really, really likes and likes to fixate on.

Sports have been great for the emotional aspect and teamwork, but we've also wanted him to get involved with something that would tap into his love of computers. Or music. I've hoped he would take piano lessons for a while but he refuses (clarinet at school is enough). The robotics, STEM-type stuff isn't quite what he likes. But when his school sent a flyer home about an after-school club where the kids would learn how to code and produce some kind of music video, we knew he HAD to do it.

Of course he didn't want to. "That'll cut into my screen time," he protested. He hates having anything happen after school. Getting him to sports practices is always an event.

"The whole club is screen time!" we shot back. After much hemming, hawing, and whining, he said he'd go (which was good, because we were going to make him).

We knew we were onto something the first day. He came out of the school with a big smile on his face and jumped into the car. "I LOVED my class!" he said.

I nearly drove off the road. This never happens. Ethan is not one to be overly enthusiastic about things that don't involve winning a game. When we got home, he wanted to jump on the computer to show us what he'd done and then keep working on it.

And that's what he's been doing now for about the last six weeks. In some ways, we're surprised (we've tried to get him involved with coding before, to no avail). I'm guessing the key has been introducing him to coding through music. He's very musical and especially interested in sound, video game music, electronics, sound effects, and so on. So he's spending a lot of time right now in this coding program looking at other people's projects and finding ways to put his own stamp on them -- things like his own version of Guitar Hero set to songs he likes or scenes from a video game with different sounds. And explosions. Lots of explosions.

Ethan is not a savant and isn't sitting there hunched over a computer programming his own games from scratch. We still don't know at this point exactly what he will end up doing or how or how challenging it will be for him to stay on task and learn in a college setting someday, but we are just excited to see him excited about creating something rather than just consuming.

But more than that, it's especially rewarding to see him excited about something that he's created. I mean, excited enough to talk faster and longer than usual, with a sparkle in his eye. And yeah, as a parent it's immensely satisfying to prod your kid to do something that he actually then ends up loving.

The other night Ethan came across a song he wanted to use for a new project and he began playing it for all of us. But he didn't just play it (via our Alexa) -- he started dancing. This song was full of all sorts of electronic, synthesized sounds (his favorite) and he couldn't get enough of it. Next thing we knew he was dancing all over the TV room.

As I watched him I realized how rare it is to see Ethan dance. It's not normally his thing. And autistic people aren't really known for being dancers. But there he was, bopping around the room, doing utterly ridiculous moves, acting silly and outrageous. I realized than even better than seeing him excited was seeing him happy, full of joy and energy. Without the coding project, we wouldn't have had the song or the dance. We wouldn't have had the moment.

As he danced he looked a little like that feeling you have when you're doing the thing you love to do. You are completely immersed in the moment. And you just can't get enough.

He's only 10 years old, so I don't know. I don't know, but maybe we've seen just a glimmer, just a glimpse of the path he might take. And that's all we really need right now.

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