Ok, I just got back from a week on the beautiful Canary Island Fuerteventura and -like on any other trip- my parents learned a valuable lesson: even if something seems disastrous at first, don't give up trying. Let me get this out in the open: most 'first time' experiences with me are complete and utter madness. The first time on an airplane for example, or the first time at the shopping mall, I cried, shouted, ran, jumped and did every other annoying thing that makes you want to avoid that particular situation for the rest of your life. Period.
So we stayed at a great and luxurious all inclusive resort and every night a 'minidisco' -a half hour disco for kids- took place at 8:30 PM. My parents thought this might be fun for little me. Oh boy. I've never went to a 'disco' before and the first time -as you might expect by now- did not go so well.
THE DISASTER PHASE
You see that big blurry thing in the middle of the picture that looks like something from a 'haunted house horrorfilm'? Yep; that's me. The truth is: the dancefloor turned me into an uncontrollable, hyperactive madman. The music, the other kids, that stuff on the ground (what is that anyway?!)... It made me run around, jump, run faster, jump higher and all while bumping at least three other children to the floor and a couple of glasses from the tables surrounding it. It was impossible to take a clear shot of me during this phase of Godzilla-like rampage.
After a few minutes the animation team started their 'minidisco-train tradition' by having all the participants form a line, hold each other's shoulders and march around the resort shouting 'MINIDISCO!', 'MINIDISCO!'. You see mommy trying her best to get me to join the line and me trying equally hard to wrestle my way out of it? That's how I do things, especially when things are new and awkward to me.
So you'd think mommy and daddy would skip the 8:30 PM minidisco all together, but no: the second and succeeding nights they took me to the dancefloor again. This is why I love them. They don't give up on me and instead give me time and space to understand better what is expected of me, although I still had much to learn that second and third time around. You see that nice circle of kids sitting on the floor imitating the gestures shown by the animation team? Yeah, I'm not part of that. I'm the one running around on the left.
And you see these kids sitting so behaved waiting for the entertainment to start on the stage? You think I'm part of that? Think again. I'm the only one standing, fittingly looking the opposite direction and making a hand gesture that curiously looks like a Vulcan greeting. I'm not the kid that does what is expected. When all other children sit and look to the left, I stand and look to the right. It's what autism is. We think differently and act accordingly. It's not better or worse, it's just a bit different. Big deal.
And when the entertainment starts, don't be surprised to see me climb on the stage and run around. I don't get it (yet) that I'm not supposed to be there. If that strange orange thing can be up there, why can't I? Of course mommy and daddy had to run on the stage to get me numerous times, to certain laughter from other parents sitting there, and I think I remember some of them refering to me as 'that problem child'. But mommy and daddy are not ashamed of me. They like me. They love me. They make pictures of me when I do things my own way. They're proud of me. Immensely proud, even though I was still pushing kids aside and being a nuisance to others. At one point I even destroyed a pair of eyeglasses that an elderly couple had put on the table. In all these instances mommy and daddy spoke on my behalf explaining that my rowdy behaviour is related to my autism disorder. They never hide it and we are usually rewarded with a lot of understanding and compassion when they speak about it openly. In the case of the glasses -although the couple was clearly upset and annoyed at first- once they heard the word 'autism' their anger subsided and made way for kind concern and a gentle smile. "It's ok. It's what children do", they reasoned.
SLOWLY IT'S GETTING BETTER
After a couple of disco-nights, I started to make slight progress. Here you can see that instead of climbing on the stage, I'm starting to understand that I should stay off it and so I stand on a box next to it, not yet joining the other kids, but getting more in touch with the mechanisms of the minidisco-concept.
Do you know what I'm looking at here, completely in awe and slightly scared? It's that strange orange thing we saw on another picture a while back. That guy was there all the time.
While others kids wanted to touch, hug and kiss that creature (seriously), I just stared at it from a safe and comfortable distance. Mommy and daddy tried to make me bond with 'orange-dude', but no way I was open for it.
But despite that, in general I adapted more and more each night. Here you can see me standing quite peacefully -not running around- with the other kids, although still doing my own thing and making my own plans, just smaller ones this time.
PERSISTANCE PAYS OFF
Remember that picture taken during the first night of me fighting my way out of mommy's arms who's desperately trying to make me join the line of kids shouting 'MINIDISCO!', ' MINIDISCO!'? This is me during one of the last nights, after having gotten some time to get used to the routines involved. You see that I'm walking on my own, even reaching out to touch the child in front of me on the back? Now I would never have done this on the first night. Never. I simply needed more time. So if mommy and dadddy had avoided the situation, I would never had the chance to learn this. Thankfully, mommy and daddy have the right amount of faith in me that I can develop new skills every day.
And here you can see that I'm finally cool with that strange orange thing. I'm touching it -no hugging or kissing yet- and despite the fact that I was kind off freaked out the first time I saw him, we became best buds for life. Well, almost then.
And the final -and best- picture. See all those kids on the stage looking at their parents taking pictures of them? You think I'm one of them? YOU BETCHA! I'm standing there, my head slightly tilted, finally being part of the moment and enjoying it. Never give up on us: we can do it!