Ryan fell asleep on the way to the park this afternoon, so I threw him in the stroller, sat on the grass, and started reading Autism and the God Connection by William Stillman. Its premise is that one of the strengths of autism is an enhanced spiritual sense, and that embracing the gifts of autism can bring one closer to the divine. Stillman, who has Asperger's, writes that autistic individuals often experience a disconnect with the physical world, creating an "aptitude for accessing a non-ending stream of consciousness," and that "because of this shift in orientation, those with autism may hold capacity for spiritual connectedness, heightened awareness, and exquisite sensitivity beyond what is considered typical. These abilities are gifts and blessings." He stresses the importance of accepting autism as a developmental difference and not a disability, and treating your autistic child with respect instead of talking about him as though he's not in the room. I'm only on page 34, but I'm fascinated so far.
Then I woke Ryan up (if he naps too long, bedtime is impossible) and took him to the playground. In addition to a fantastic playground, Harbor Island Park has small beach with a nice sprinkler park. I was surprised when Ryan indicated he wanted to go to the sprinklers - he rarely enjoys getting wet in a sprinkler, and is still pretty hesitant around sand. The wind blew spray from the sprinklers onto our faces. I thought it felt great; Ryan scrunched his face up and tried to spit the water away.
Fresh from reading that book, I was keenly aware of how differently I was approaching this trip to the beach versus last summer. Last summer, I remember ripping off Ryan's socks and shoes and forcing him to experience the beach and sprinklers in the same way as the rest of the kids. I got upset when he refused to step into the ocean, and had zero patience for his dislike of feeling sand on his skin. Going to the beach was no fun for either of us, but I kept subjecting us both to the this-is-how-summer-is-supposed-to-be routine.
Today, a year wiser, I looked for ways to make being on the beach enjoyable for both of us (while still intentionally getting him a little outside his comfort zone). "Ooh, look at these rocks!" I cooed. "Wanna throw them in the water?" When Ryan sees a stream or a puddle, he needs to throw rocks and sticks into it. So he was happy to throw things into the sea; not so happy that the rocks were a little wet and sandy, but he toughed it out.
I took off my shoes, but didn't suggest he take off his. "Mommy, your feet! They're dirty!" he marveled. I told him I liked walking barefoot in the sand, and not to worry, I would wash my feet later. He even helped me unbury my toes. A few months ago, he would have cried that I needed to put my shoes back on; today, he seemed tolerant of my behavior, even though he clearly did not approve.
Eventually, he made his way into the sprinkler park. Mostly he stood in a relatively dry corner and pointed out when each sprinkler head went on or off, but occasionally he stuck a finger in the water, or manned the water cannon.
He seemed quite pleased, and spent a good long time doing whatever it was he was doing. Last summer, I kept pushing him to get more involved, as if there were some correlation between happiness and saturation. Now I can respect that he's having fun in his own way, even if it's not my idea of a good time.