The Troublemaker

We hit a big milestone this week: Jack got into trouble at school. And… wait for it: It was for “not keeping his hands to himself.”

Translation: Jack was bothering other kids and getting into their space. JACK WAS BOTHERING OTHER KIDS AND GETTING INTO THEIR SPACE!

Until Monday, or maybe last Saturday, the most we could hope to see from Jack, with regard to playing with his peers, was allowing them to play in his general vicinity. The teacher and paraprofessional who talked with me had very grave expressions on their faces. The para, whom I’ll call Mrs. M, said that it looked like maybe Jack was trying to tickle other kids in the lunch room.

OK, let me break this down for those of you who don’t have an autistic kid. He was TICKLING other KIDS in the LUNCH ROOM–a room so vast and loud and full of cacophonous echoes that a year (or even a couple of months) ago would have had Jack rigidly sitting in his chair, eyes on his shoes, never saying a word to anyone. Ever.

I had to temper my response, of course. Those grave expressions. Because to be honest, I was FRICKING THRILLED! And Mrs. M did concede that it was good that he was interested in interacting with his peers, but that we just need to channel that interest into appropriate behaviors.

This is true. I do not want Jack to hurt other children. We always emphasize gentleness when we play with him at home, especially because he’s getting a lot bigger and stronger and can now actually harm us if he kicks us with the intent to wound or maim. Tickling him has become a dicey proposition, lately. Trouble is, the kid loves to be tickled.

So that’s maybe what he was doing, sharing his love of tickling with his new friends at the lunch table. But I still can’t get over the fact that he had NEW FRIENDS AT THE LUNCH TABLE!

Even if he didn’t actually hurt anyone, I also don’t want him to become the annoying kid that nobody likes because he’s always up in everyone’s grill. Of course I’m biased, but I think Jack has always been a very likable little boy. I wouldn’t want him to blow that streak, either.

We may have our new friends Rich and Leanne to thank, who came over for a cookout on Saturday with their son, Tristan. They’ve all just moved to Fort Collins from Wilmington, NC, where we moved here from. Rich took a few Creative Writing classes at UNCW, and my friend and former prof Nina introduced us via Facebook. And Tristan also happens to be the same age as Jack, and the only other five-year-old we’ve ever met who is even taller than Jack.

It was love at first sight. The boys jumped into the hammock together. Tristan started hiding behind a fold of fabric and yelling, “Boo!” – which sent Jack into violent gales of laughter. He did not want the game to end, even twenty minutes later, when Tristan was trying to eat his dinner. We were astounded by their obvious fondness for each other.

So maybe Jack was really just trying to get his school friends to be as fun as his new friend, Tristan. Here’s where autism can suck my dick. Because he can’t tell me why he was doing anything. He can only echo my question: “Did you tickle kids in the lunch room?” Whether or not he actually did so.

But there’s hope. Because for all of my agreement that, yes, of course, we want Jack to interact appropriately with his peers, not hurt them, not be a pain in the ass, etc.– I have to say that the prerequisite to appropriate interaction is ANY interaction. And until five days ago, that was not happening ever. At all. Ever.

To me, his exuberance is a sign that he’s already comfortable in his new school. He already loves his teachers, and he obviously wants to “love” his classmates, too. I’m pretty excited about my little troublemaker.

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