“Before children with autism can attempt to understand the thoughts, intentions and feelings of others, they first need to be aware that ‘others’ actually exist…”
~Playing, Laughing, Learning with Children on the Autism Spectrum, Julia Moor
There was a time when Rhema seemed completely isolated and indifferent to people and sounds around her. Friends would comment, ‘Wow, she’s really in her own world.’ Relatives and strangers would ask me if she could hear. I once joked that we could host a marching band in our living room and she wouldn’t notice.
But lately Rhema is aware. Suddenly she seems interested in things happening around her. She notices other people, too – children and adults alike, she appreciates them in her space, she is excited by their presence. She smiles, she giggles, she…
wallops them on the head.
If she really loves you, she pummels you.
Hope is the hardest hit. In recent months, Rhema has discovered her sister. Hope is surprised and delighted by the attention and gladly sacrifices her body.
I, with pride and affection, watch my children greet each other in the morning. Rhema gets Hope in a headlock and pounds her head in hard succession. And then I gently step in before there’s a concussion.
Hope and I beam at each other, “Rhema hit me on the head, Mommy!!!”
“I know, baby. I know,” I say, my heart full.
At a recent school meeting, her teacher delicately broached the subject of Rhema’s… what shall we call them?… howdy-do beatdowns. I recounted stories of unsuspecting kids at the playground, at the mall, at the pool getting clobbered greeted by my girl. Apparently it was happening at school, too.
We talked about teaching Rhema to replace the welcoming whacks with oh say, a simple “hi” or wave of the hand. We discussed the fact that Rhema’s current nonverbal imitation program includes “tap head” and that perhaps she was over-generalizing that directive. Tapping her own head had somehow morphed into smacking someone else’s.
“But think of this as a milestone,” the school director said. “It means that she is more socially aware, she wants to engage with others now – we just have to teach her appropriate ways of doing that. Really… this is great.”
I couldn’t agree more. 😉