This morning, Ryan participated in his first school musical on the stage. I could tell he was nervous about it. He didn’t want to talk about the program whenever I brought it up. Last night, out of the blue, Ryan told me he wanted to wear his Lego Movie “Everything is Awesome” shirt to school the next day. Ryan never requests to wear a certain shirt. I explained that he was supposed to wear a blue shirt for his musical. Maybe he thought that if he showed up at school wearing a different shirt, he wouldn’t have to participate.
All the parents, grandparents and friends gathered in the cafeteria and watched the first graders file onto the stage. The assistant teacher held Ryan’s hand and encouraged him to keep walking to his place on the step. I saw some smiles on his face. Good! He wasn’t totally terrified. And he didn’t bolt off the stage in the middle of the performance like I thought he would do. He didn’t sing or do any of the motions, either. There he stood, in the front row of the risers, looking all around at the audience, but not singing a note.
Afterwards I saw his teacher. She explained to me that he did do the motions and mouthed the words several times during practice. I had no doubt he knew all the songs. But to me, it was thrilling to see Ryan, despite his sound sensitivity, participate the best that he could and make it through the whole, over stimulating performance of loud music and loud voices speaking into the microphone. And not once did he put his hands on his ears.
The principal told the parents that their child would be waiting in the gym after the performance for a hug before going back to class. I knew Ryan would not want a hug from me or want to give me a hug. In fact, I knew he would be uncomfortable seeing me. Children with autism need certain routines to be the same. And it wasn’t routine to see mommy at school. Ryan has rigid rules about where people and things belong. Mommy belongs at home. Teachers belong to school. I walked over to Ryan standing against the wall in the gym. I knew he was uncomfortable. It was loud and crowded. All this commotion was not a part of the typical school day. “Awesome job!” I said to Ryan. He turned his face away from mine and motioned for me to go away.
I said good bye, walked out of the building to my car, and drove away, knowing that hugs would come later. Right now i was over joyed that Ryan had made the huge step of being able to tolerate being on the stage.