We saw friends over the weekend that we hadn't seen in over two years. They have two boys on the autism spectrum.
The younger child is like Kai in many ways. We met Timothy and his parents when our mutual ABA therapist at that time thought that he and Kai would be compatible for play dates. That was back when they were in preschool. Now, though it has been a long time since they last saw each other, Kai and Timothy picked right up where they left off.
Kai has recently developed an interest (obsession) with plushies. Most kids are into plushies when they are what? toddlers? and are well past playing with them by the time they are Kai's age. But we're (somewhat) happy that Kai has an interest in something non-electronic, and that he is doing some imaginative play with the plushies (better late than never, I suppose).
Kai was thrilled when he saw Timothy's room and saw that Timothy had even more plushies than he did. According to Kai, some of the plushies were rare, saying that Timothy had one that was going for $100 on eBay. The two boys played with the plushies (with Timothy not minding sharing his with Kai), and talked about important things like Mario characters and posting videos to YouTube (another mutual interest). Kai enjoyed the visit immensely.
The older boy, Benjamin, is mostly non-verbal, capable only of saying a word here and there but mostly unable to express his thoughts. It is easy to think that someone like that is a loner, but Benjamin is a very social kid. If he doesn’t interact with others, it is mostly because we all don’t know how to interact with him, and not because it is his choice. He loves people, and we learned that he was really looking forward to seeing all of us and had been in a great mood all day in anticipation of our visit.
It was our first visit since our friends moved into their new house. Just after we arrived, Benjamin led us to his favorite spot, the large trampoline outside in the backyard. He loves jumping and can keep going for an hour non-stop, but his greatest pleasure is not jumping by himself; rather, he loves to jump with other people, and in this case, specifically, with me. It was a warm afternoon, and dressed in a collared shirt and jeans, I knew I’d get all sweaty if I jumped for long. So I jumped with Benjamin for about five minutes, and then his dad gave me a break and took my place before we all went inside to get the tour of the new house. But I could tell that Benjamin was disappointed that we didn't jump longer.
It was fun seeing the house, and it was nice to catch up on the kids. But perhaps more than anything, being with fellow autism parents, we felt the bond and understanding that stays strong despite the long interval since we were last together.
We were most eager to learn about the RPM program that they have been doing with Benjamin for about a year and a half. RPM stands for Rapid Prompting Method, and to describe it simply, it helps non-verbal individuals with autism communicate by prompting them to spell out words and sentences. In Benjamin’s case, they have a laminated sheet with the alphabet printed on it. Parents or school staff can ask Benjamin a question, and he will point to the letters on the sheet one at a time to spell out his thoughts. The Prompting is an important part of the method as questioning, prompting,and engaging is necessary to help keep him focused as otherwise he may not stay still or his attention may wander.
Benjamin cannot use the sheet spontaneously, but he has been able to answer questions posed to him.
His parents have learned that there is a lot going on in his mind that they never knew of before. They now get more insight after he gets upset as to the reasons why. They learned that he understands algebra when the school was still just teaching him basic arithmetic. And they found out that he is curious about girls, and wonders what a kiss would be like, but thinks that he will never find out because he has autism.
It is incredibly heartwarming that they have opened up communication with their son, and found out that he has all of these thoughts just like you and I do.
After dinner, it had cooled off a bit. I offered to Benjamin that we go back out on the trampoline. He was really happy!
This time, we bounced a good long time. Kai and Timothy came outside with a bunch of the plushies and joined us on the trampoline. Three kids, a dozen plushies, and me, bouncing bouncing bouncing.
Couldn't have been a better way to wrap up a very fine day.