When Ethan was younger, before we knew the exact reason for his lack of speech. Why when we called out for him; he didn’t respond at all. I would take him to a play group every Friday morning; he loved the toys, from the play house to the slide. I would find myself noticing little things that Ethan wasn’t doing. For example, he ran around like he was the only child in the room, he didn’t see the dangers of certain activities or other children around him. I would hear other children talking to each other or to their mums, these weren’t full conversations, but compared to Ethan who at the time, didn’t say a word, it was definitely hard to miss.
Many children with autism, struggle with social situations and are quite often happy playing by themselves; in their own bubble, away from others. Ethan would quite happily play by himself all day; unless I’m around. In which case, he goes out of his way, to include me in his game of choice whether it is play dough, toy cars or sand play.
When Ethan first started at nursery, he could be found on his own most days, playing with a specific activity for the whole 2 and a half hour period that he was there for. He became so fixated on the play dough or water table, that he couldn’t be moved. He would run into every child that was in his line of sight, he had no awareness of them or the fact that they were going to be hurt or upset as a result of him running into them. However, recently, Ethan who is in his 2nd year of nursery has become more aware of others around him every day. For example he has become attached to a small group of friends, who he looks for every morning as we walk into the nursery. When I leave him, he is usually stood around a table, watching other children & playing alongside them.
Given any situation, Ethan tends to be more interactive with older children & adults. With children of his own age, he likes to run around with them & copy how they behave; but he wouldn’t join in with a game of tag with them for example. Ethan would just see his friends running around; he wouldn’t understand that there was a specific game going on.
In this blog, I want to share a really lovely example of an experience that we had as a family, with other people around us, just a couple of weeks ago.
On one of our Sunday walks around Cosmeston Lake, we were heading off of the usual footpath that most people take around the lake. There were 2 men, late 20’s/early 30’s kicking a ball back and forth. Ethan saw the football, and said ‘I want to score a goal’. With that he bolted for the men, leaving Jamie & I in the dust. We are used to this sort of thing, calling his name & saying ‘stop’ only works in certain situations, this wasn’t one of them. Children with autism, tend to have no awareness of danger at all. Ethan doesn’t know to look left & right before we cross a road & he would be the first person to run flat out around a busy supermarket car park, regardless of the fast cars.
Myself & Jamie run towards Ethan, picking him up, just before he gets caught in the cross fire of the game being played. We apologise for Ethan adding himself to the game & head off on the path once more. As we walk away, a voice catches my attention & I see a ball heading towards us in the corner of my eye. One of the men had taken it upon himself to kick the ball to Ethan, saying ‘here you go’. Ethan hesitates at first, but with a little encouragement he kicks the ball back to the two men on the grass.
This activity only lasts for about 3 minutes, but that was long enough for Ethan. He didn’t necessarily know how to play the game; he just wanted to score a goal. In Ethan’s mind no words were needed either, he got to kick the ball, but he wasn’t really bothered about communicating with the people around him. We tell Ethan that the game has finished, otherwise he would have spent the rest of the day; kicking the ball back and forth with the men. Something that neither we nor the men would have wanted to do; Ethan begins to wonder away, we thank the men for including him in their game. They’re response was ‘you’re welcome, no problem at all’.
In my eyes, I don’t think they truly realised what they had done. In their minds, they had just let a little boy play football with them. To me they didn’t hesitate to play with Ethan, they didn’t get too close to him. They simply allowed him to have fun, no questions asked. Ethan in turn got to do something that he loved to do, usually with daddy, but this time with strangers. He wanted to include himself, have himself seen & heard.
To the men who made Ethan feel welcome, who asked no questions, and who let him join in with their game. Thank you, Ethan walked away happy & so proud of himself for playing football & scoring a goal. If there were more people around who, didn’t judge, who just treated everyone in the same way, the world would be a much nicer place. We as parents wouldn’t feel like, we are constantly being judged, by those who don’t understand what we’re going through as a family. We wouldn’t feel on edge all of the time & we wouldn’t have to have our guard up constantly, feeling compelled to answer to every ‘tut’ or disapproving look that strangers give us in public.