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In Search of Happy…

April 29, 2012

by Sarena James

The note in his green book bag said that Grant was selected by his teachers as the Terrific Kid of the Month, for April.  My mommy heart smiled genuinely, as I thought of everything that made my son terrific.

 His sincere effort, his deep concern when others are unhappy, his way of helping his father in the yard, his dimpled-smile, is just a sampling of what makes Grant a wonderful little guy. Certainly not perfect, but terrific, absolutely!

The alarm went off around seven o’clock Friday morning.  I woke Grant up and immediately he noticed the unusual amount of light pouring in through his blinds.  “School?”

This one-word question clued me in to his confusion. Normally, we wake him up an hour earlier while the sky is still dark.  I told him that yes, he had school, and that he was receiving an honor.

“Ride bus?” he asked.

“Not today. Today Daddy and Mommy and your sisters will take you to school.”  He accepted my answer, and had no more questions until we pulled his shirt and tie from the closet.

“Go to church?”

“Not today.  Today, we go to school.  All five of us go to school with Grant. “  (I didn’t fully realize it then, but his eyes and demeanor literally saddened with every answer.)

When we arrived at his elementary school, he was a bit restless with uncertainty. Breakfast was over, there was no milk. His regular teachers were nowhere in sight. Instead, there was a small crowd of people, some with cameras, but most of them were strangers, trespassers in his familiar world.  From across the room, I saw his eyes searching for words. He said nothing, but I heard his voice scream.  A substitute teacher comforted him and my terrific kid seemed alright.

I watched him walk with confidence across the school stage. He was dressed in khakis, a blue button-down shirt, red tie, and navy sports coat.  There he stood, Grant James. I listened intently as kind words began to fill the space of the room. They said he was caring and always eager to learn new things. They said he just wouldn’t stop trying until he heard the words, “Good job Grant.”  They said he loved coming to school, much more than taking breaks.  They said he was a terrific kid.

Two hours later, they called to say he was having a terrible time. He was scratching deeply and his screams were piercing. Suddenly the sunny day was filled with emotional turbulence, and after school, those strong gusts of wind were carried into our home.

A cup with orange juice flew across the room and hit the fireplace mantle.  Grant’s therapist and I gave him paper towels to clean up the mess he created, and he did, because not doing it, was unacceptable. He cried, He screamed. He kicked.  He threw things in the air; he picked those things up, because again, not doing it was unacceptable. In between were breathing exercises and tight squeezes to help him learn to calm himself down. Then he said something that literally made my heart ache.

“Happy. Happy please.  I want happy.”

Exactly where was happy anyway, and who told happy to go?  I couldn’t hold it in any longer.  I went upstairs, and I cried.

Later I had an honest conversation with Laura and Danielle, two of his ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis)Therapists.  I was finding it difficult to understand where this tantrum had come from, especially now that he has more language than ever. Danielle helped me see just how different his day was. The time, the transportation, the teacher, the tie, was all different that day. The subtlest change is hard to process, let alone an entire day of it.

Laura explained that sometimes when there is a burst of language, as Grant is having, the behavior can become more problematic in the event he can’t find the words to say.  “Now Grant knows just how empowering language is. His receptive language (what he understands) is significantly higher than his expressive language (what he can articulate).”  She further explained that autism can be cyclical, in that some behaviors come around again, from time to time.

Danielle added, “Grant’s behaviors are not malicious, but attempts at communication. He simply does not understand every emotion yet and how to handle them.”

I hate autism.

I hate the unfair challenges it brings to such innocent souls.  I hate the threats its makes to rob speech and social skills. But in all of what I hate, love is so much stronger. I love that we refuse to let it dictate, rule or bully us into quitting.  I love that we remain a family in spite of it. I love that before bedtime he willingly gave me a hug and let me hold him closely, like I did the day he was born. There on his bed, the moon’s light shined on the beautiful place called Happy.  Grant, the terrific problem-solver, the terrific son, the terrific brother, the terrific never-give-up kid, remains all of these things and more…

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Ihsaan Ali permalink
    May 5, 2012 10:05 pm

    This particular article really got to me tonight Raph… I know to well those screams of frustration that Grant’s exhibited in this particular situation. Although Ismail speaks a lot, there are still moments when he explodes in screams of sheer disdain for the moment.

    It’s very interesting that Ismail also is very concerned about the mood in the house or if someone(even mama and daddy) may not be having a good day. He’s very apologetic when he and his sister are being lectured for being too junglee. Even he’s done something wrong, screams then has the wherewithal to say “hug” or “sorry”.

    Thank you once again for your words and sharing The James Experience of ASD!

    • May 6, 2012 12:51 am

      Thank you. Grant is amazing. This journey is never dull. I’ll be glad when we can clearly communicate ourselves to each other.

  2. April 30, 2012 2:58 pm

    One of my favorite ideas I learned from one of the students in my early childhood ed classes at Trident Tech last semester was to add in a “Surprise!” card into a child’s schedule. For most of us, “Surprise!” has a happy connotation and is a welcome treat, but this is a skill that doesn’t come naturally for our children on the ASD spectrum. It is something else that can be taught through practice, repetition, and experience. I love your terrific kid! He comes from a terrific family!
    P.S. I was at J’s middle school this a.m. for an IEP meeting and hoped I might run into her but did not. Give her a squeeze for me!

  3. April 29, 2012 3:13 pm

    Allison, thank you so much for reading this story and for your kind words! Days like this are long and hard but the amazing thing about Grant is that in spite of the obstacles of language and emotions, he will try again! He wants to get through it. He wants to learn, and he will. Thank you again for your encouragement and expertise, both of which strengthen us on this journey…

  4. Allison permalink
    April 29, 2012 12:04 pm

    Serena- My heart fills with tears as I read this! I was so happy to hear of Grants award and to see him all dressed up on Friday but I knew as soon as I saw him- his day would be different. Different schedules, different teachers, different dress… Different days are hard for him but different days are life. You and Mr. James are doing everything right as parents by keeping his days different- they may be hard for Grant now but in the long run he will learn to accept different days and will work through his frustrations. In my eyes- he is a terrific kid everyday and you are terrific parents! Never forget that:)

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