My son was meant to do a reading in front of the entire school this morning. He and several of his Year One friends had been chosen to do the “Prayers of the Faithful”, little prayers they take turns to read out, ending with them asking, “Lord hear us?” Then we all say, “Lord hear our prayer”.
When his teacher first told me that Giovanni had been selected to do a prayer at mass, my first thought was, “He’s never going to do that”. Giovanni, seven, is on the autism spectrum and some feats are just beyond him, speaking in front of large crowds being one of them.
He’s good one-one-one though. It’s one of the reasons he was diagnosed so late. “But he talks to me all the time,” people would assure me. Except if he doesn’t know you or isn’t comfortable with you and becomes mute, starring at the ground, slightly to the left, as he tends to do.
"He's just shy," people would assure me.
"He just enjoys his own company," others said.
Now that he has been officially diagnosed life has been better. His teachers and I no longer push him to do things he's not comfortable doing. If we do push him he tends to shut down. Sometimes if he is particularly anxious he starts rocking back and forth. We've learned not to push him and to let him try things in his own time.
I was surprised he had been chosen. I know why he was. He's made such amazing progress this year thanks to his brilliant teachers (I really can't give them enough credit) and excellent school staff. We figured, why not?
Except a little voice told me he wouldn't do it. Then I became angry with myself. I told myself to stop putting limitations on him and assuming the worst. He may just surprise me, surprise us.
Then my mummy-brain leaped ahead to the morning of the mass, how he'd step up to the lectern and clearly read out the words we'd practiced at home:
I'd beam as he read it and I'd film it so I could show everyone how far he'd come. See, my son has autism, and look at him now? He can read in front of a church full of people. He will have a normal life. He will achieve. He will be happy.
My worries are over.
Afterwards I'd catch his eye and we'd smile at each other. I'd hug him later and tell him I was so so proud of him, my special little guy.
The day before the mass his teacher called and told me that when it came time to rehearse in the empty church, he didn't want to do it. I felt so deflated. She said they'd keep trying and I told her not to worry about it. Still, she tried again but no luck. She sent me an email to let me know that he wouldn't be doing a prayer after all, but he would be doing actions along with a hymn with the rest of Year One.
Giovanni is happy to talk to a camera being held by a single person but can't navigate interactions with more than two or three people, let along a church filled with hundreds. Here he is at school explaining why bananas are the best fruit. Article continues after this video.
I went to the mass today and watched as his friends delivered the Prayers of the Faithful. I couldn't help but wish he was one of them. However I wouldn't want him to do it if it caused him distress. I only want him doing things he is comfortable with or that he can handle. The problem with him being on the spectrum is that if pushed, the trauma he suffers takes too long to repair. He doesn't bounce back like other kids. He needs support, a gentle push now and then but ultimately, he needs us all to accept his limitations.
Having a child on the spectrum has made me a better mother to my other children as well. I don't ever want to cause them suffering due to my high expectations. Yes, I want them to stretch themselves beyond their comfort zones, but not to a point where they feel they almost can't cope. At the end of the day, each child has natural gifts and inclinations, and if we focus on supporting those, if the jobs they end up getting tap into those, they will be happier for it.
Their happiness is more important that anything else including my pride and other people's expectations.
Giovanni did do all the movements to the song, well, most of them. He needed encouragement from one of his wonderful teachers to stand up and join the rest of the kids. He spent a few seconds looking at the ground, his eyes fixed on a spot to the left, and then he reluctantly joined in. About half way through the song he caught my eye and his face lit up, matching mine.
He's doing fine.