Autism, our autism at least, is about extremes.
For years Rhema was tactile defensive. Touch averse. Any time we tried to hug her she would squirm and run away like we’d just eaten garlic pizza and onion rings.
But these days we are experiencing such deep, emotional connections with her – it’s amazing! One of her teachers wrote me: ‘She’s letting us all in and it feels really great’. Now she loves to give and receive hugs!!!
OK, maybe too much.
Especially when it’s the “climb up your back and swing by your neck around to the front and lock legs and maybe take out an eyeball and grab a fistful of your hair as you fall over from the weight of me” hug.
At school we’ve discussed that this behavior is something we may need to address. Because you can’t just go hugging anybody (which is kind of sad). And when she won’t stay in her seat and finish her work because she wants to bear hug a teacher walking by, well, it’s endearing but sort of a problem.
I blame Hope. She has always demanded hugs from Rhema; she was never daunted by the refusals, only inspired to hug more. In fact if anyone can be said to exhibit inappropriate hugging it would be Hope, the neurotypical one! Her modus operandi is to hug you to death.
Last month we planned a “playdate” with Jess and her family. Our friend Drama was visiting, and Rhema, Hope and I would be meeting Drama’s beautiful daughters, Miss M and Roxie, for the first time. Miss M is remarkably generous, talented, courageous, and wise beyond her 12 years. She happens to be on the autism spectrum, and over the past couple years she has felt especially close to Rhema – she has prayed for her, read about her on the blog and even helped her mother send us a care package, picking out a musical toy that she knew would soothe Rhema. (To this day, Rhema loves that toy.)
On our drive over to Jess’ house I explained to Hope who we would be meeting and reminded her of the wonderful gifts they’d sent the year before. I had no idea if Rhema was understanding or even listening to our conversation.
It was raining when we arrived and my dear friends were crowded at the door – Jess and Drama, Katie, Brooke, Miss M, Roxie – and everyone was talking excitedly.
Rhema saw no one but Miss M. She walked past the others, reached up and tenderly wrapped her arms around Miss M’s neck. Somehow she knew. She just knew.
And they hugged. No words. Just an embrace of sweet recognition like I’ve found my sister.
It was a moment. I looked at Jess in the doorway, our eyes huge, like Whoa.
Weeks later and we still can’t get over it. We call it The Hug.
And everything about that hug was beautifully, gloriously appropriate.
These days I am blessed to see a lot of firsts. Without a doubt, The Hug was the first time I’d ever seen Rhema connect in such a way with another child (besides Hope, and even that is rare).
It gives me such joy and hope, you see.
Because until now
I didn’t know my girl could have, would ever have, friends.