Every year, we have the king of all barbecues at a friend’s place. It used to be held on the weekend of the Ohio State-Michigan football game for the sake of having an excuse to set it up, but more recently, we’ve simply moved it to a convenient weekend where everyone was available. It’s always been at said friend’s pad – whether he’s lived locally in a tiny apartment, a nicer place up in a high-rise or now in his townhouse with his wife.
So the Monster’s been going to this annual event with us since he was a baby – everyone’s watched him grow up, and all of the regulars have been aware, year after year, of his diagnoses, moving from ‘delayed’ to ‘maybe on-spectrum’ to ‘Autistic’. So there really are no surprises – everyone knows to watch out for what he’s doing, where he’s going, and how to help cajole him back to where he’s supposed to be.
This year’s barbecue was also the smallest in years, due to the effects of the hurricane – it was, essentially, canceled save for two families that did still come over. (Well, that and so we could plan the make-up event for the spring, when things are calmer.) It was six adults and four kids (three really, plus our baby). And… it was a a nice surprise as well.
For starters, while the Monster is still playing mostly in parallel with other children, he spent part of the afternoon playing along for short spans of time if given enough direction as to what he should be doing, and if it matched nicely with what he wanted to be doing at the moment. The two boys were sufficiently patient (or, perhaps, as scattered as the Monster is), and didn’t seem to mind that he wasn’t going along at all times with what they were doing.
The highlight of my afternoon, though, was when our host’s mother called, and we spent a few minutes going around the room with Facetime to say hello.
My buddy’s niece is just a bit older than the Monster, and was visiting her grandmother, so she took her turn to say hi to everyone. Because the Monster and the baby were also present, they each got a turn to say hello as well. When the screen was turned to the Monster, and they told my friend’s niece to say hi to the Monster, he said hi back – with the girl’s name, without prompting, making good eye contact with her (or at least with the iPhone). This went on for a little bit – he isn’t much for conversation beyond hi/hello, but he was quite happy to say hi to her each time they offered the screen to him.
AND, this was after his schedule had been massively disrupted. Two hours in the car from our house, then a whole day without any real structure (and indeed, without most of his usual toys and supports), and he was still being appropriately social without melting down.
I’m very proud of him.