Lessons Learned From a Christmas Concert
Colt is terrified of getting up in front of people and speaking, much like many people in this world. I think his fear is compounded by the thought that he can’t get across what he wants to get across…he hates being laughed at, of course. The kids in his school confuse us…sometimes they seem cruel and dismissive with him and sometimes they are the sweetest human beings I could have ever imagined.
We got to the school at the requested time and Colt was SO excited. He was jumping up and down and kept announcing “Welcome to our Christmas Show mom and dad!” Every time he did so, I would take a quick look around at his peers. D and I never have the opportunity to see him in his private environment…there are no birthday parties or play dates to speak of. We’re usually in the dark about how he is treated and have to rely on brief sightings and the words of his teachers and support people. Sadly, we’ve learned not to trust many of these adults as they have their jobs to keep and tend to under or over exaggerate things to suit them. Mind you, this year is turning out quite different. *Thank you new Principal, teacher, support person, learning support teacher!!!!*
When we walked in, one of his classmates said “Oh hey! Colt’s here!” and came over to say hi. A little girl came up and wished him a Merry Christmas, gave him a hug. Another lovely young guy offered a high five and a fist bump. I was so happy to see it I must have been glowing. I said hey to his teacher, she was smiley and sweet, and then we went to find our seats in the gym.
The show was actually really good this year. They made it 45 minutes and involved ALL of the kids the entire way through. It was much easier for the little ones as they only had to pop on and off, and the junior kids in Colt’s class sat on risers throughout. They engaged them constantly, having them stand and sit, sing short, catchy songs to keep everyone going. It was adorable and I spent the entire time cooing over the four-year olds dressed as presents (they were freaking adorable!!) and laughing at the jokes. It was really cute the whole way through.
But my boy. Guys…he was amazing. I sat next to the Principal by accident and she chatted my ear off about how much she loves our boy. (I wanted to hug her). She told me that Colt had been very nervous at the dress rehearsal that day and had chosen not to go on the stage. I had told them not to force him if he resisted. I wanted this to be fun for him…not torture right? So, he refused and that was fine but you’d never have known it from the enthusiasm he put into his performance. It was incredible. So much to tell…bear with me.
He got up there and was about in the centre of the group, which surprised me. He’s usually tailing on the end or hiding in the back. He was sitting beside two boys I recognized from his class photo…Mitchell and Connor. They are the boys he sits with in class and the two of them have taken on a really sweet leadership role with Colt. No one has asked them to play with him or be kind to him…they’ve done it out of kindness and genuine friendship, I think. In any event, I fell in love with Connor last night. I wanted to meet his parents and hug them…buy the kid a HUGE Christmas gift and tell him he’s an angel, but of course, I didn’t. It’s not my place to interrupt the flow of things there. Colt was excited and when excited, he makes faces and fidgets, shakes his hands and rolls his eyes…odd little things he uses to discharge excitement or anxiety. As I watched him, smiling, (he was being really good and trying hard not to jump all over the place) I was stunned when I realized Connor was mimicking Colt…making him feel connected and one of the group. (Connor has no learning disabilities or autistic traits at all, fyi). So this nine year old boy was up on stage, keeping Colt engaged and was playing along; shaking his hands, making faces back at Colt. I swear I was moments from tears. I looked back at D and noticed most of the parents on my side of the gym smiling at us…they all saw it too. Connor made Colt fit in perfectly…soon, Mitchel caught on and joined in.
I’ve been struggling to name this feeling since last night. What do you call it when your every fear for your child evaporates for an evening? It was amazing guys. Really amazing.
Colt not only had a fun time with his buddies, he sang every word of every song! He threw in a few little dance moves (they were cool too!) and closed his eyes when he sang at times. It was mind blowing to see him up there, singing away with his class. They learned a french carol as well (they start learning french in grade four here) and he sang it word for word, big smile on his face. He sat there, and stood there, for the entire show without showing the slightest bit of anxiety or boredom. It’s like someone took my kid and replaced him with an upgraded version just in time for Christmas….I was blown away.
There is another autistic boy at Colt’s school now. He’s in grade one, I believe. He is much lower on the spectrum in function and cognitive ability and requires 24 hour care. This little man attended the concert and although he didn’t get on stage, they had him stand (and sit) right next to the risers, next to his class. He stood and danced, stared into the lights with squinty eyes, and made happy noises. I could tell he was having fun. At the end of the concert the kids sang their last song and right at the end, this munchkin let out a an ear-splitting screech that made the audience pause for a second, not sure what they were hearing. I knew though. I watched him make his noises and then watched the little girls in the front look at each other and giggle under covered hands. It made me sad for him…but I could see it didn’t phase him in the least. He sat down again and rubbed his pants, hunkered down and flapped his hands around in his lap, moaned and rocked. I’ve seen all of these behaviours in Colt over the years. It was hard to see them so exaggerated and obvious. This one acts like Colt, moves like Colt, has the same connective issues as Colt, but he cannot speak, does not make eye contact, rocks and sways his head all the time and has huge physical and vocal outbursts when he’s overwhelmed. I cried for him all the way home, silently, while Colt, D and I celebrated Colt’s amazing success.
My boy asked if we liked the show about a hundred times and started a bunch of anxiety behaviours (he’ll get a verbal tic these days…can’t stop repeating himself. Right now, it’s “I love you” over and over. All good with that one hey? lol). We answered him every time he asked, told him we loved him back, with patience and love. I would have kept repeating it for weeks had he wanted it that way. I am so proud of him….and, so thankful that he can do the things he does.
Colt has the choice to do things. He works hard at school but is never forced into situation. He can choose to participate, sit quietly (relatively), sing a song, learn the lyrics, pay attention, engage with peers, hang out with awesome kids like Connor and Mitchell. The other ASD angel in that school cannot. My heart breaks for him and his family. It must have been awful for his mom to watch Colt…knowing that they share a diagnosis but are so different in abilities.
We are a lucky family. Luckier than I allow myself to feel, some days. I’m going to work on that. I don’t make New Year’s resolutions historically, however, this year, I think I will.
Thank you God, the Universe, everyone….for helping Colt along the way and giving him a little bit of friendship and love in these early years. I’m on my knees with gratitude today.
Merry Christmas to my wonderful friends here. Sometimes things are just not as bad as they seem. xox