Warning - there is some inappropriate language in this post. It's not my fault....I blame my son. Read on and be warned.
Yesterday my son TJ turned 12. Unbelievable. TJ has autism and is the kind of kid who acts younger than his middle school peers - no interest in sports or dances, has a tough time just "hanging out with the guys", that sort of thing. Despite this fact we have heard from many people, parents and teachers alike, that everyone in his class loves TJ. They look out for him. TJ has a great sense of humor and loves to make people laugh (sound familiar?) and the kids love him for it. It's really an incredible thing and we feel so fortunate that our sweet TJ is surrounded by such wonderful kids.
So for his birthday dinner yesterday he invited 3 friends to go to Pizzeria Uno. The kids sat on one end of the long table and the adults sat on the other end (in addition to us, my in-laws are here, and one of our wonderful PCAs joined us as well). At the beginning of the dinner TJ clearly had something in his head. For you who are not familiar with autism, or not familiar with TJ, this means he is running a TV show in his head and is watching it....picture perfect, word for word. He sat there at the end of the dinner table, not talking to anyone. I reminded him "TJ, your friends are here to visit with you. Out of your head and be here with us please." "Yes, Mom!" Of course I had to do this 4 or 5 more times before he slowly began to engage with his buddies.
Now some of you may call me crazy, or too involved, but during times like these I start to panic. He looks different. He acts different. How much will his friends put up with until they don't want to be around him anymore? What if he's in his head all night and doesn't talk to anyone? Did I set him up for failure? You get the idea....I do a number on myself.
So I decided to turn my chair away from the kids and face the adults. I knew that my eagle eye wasn't helping TJ to socialize at all.
Guess what? IT WORKED!!! Within a few minutes I heard laughter from the kid side of the table and turned to see TJ with a huge natural smile (not a fake I-have-autism-I-have-to-force-myself-to-smile smile) and giggles galore. WAHOO!!! I turned back to the adults and breathed a sigh of relief.
That relief was temporary. But not for the reason you may be thinking.
Suddenly the giggles stopped, all at once, from every kid at the table. I turned to see them all looking at me with wide eyes, like "Did she hear? Are we going to get in trouble?" TJ CLEARLY looked like he did something terribly naughty. I turned to Sean.
Me: "Did you hear what happened?"
Me: "What? Tell me!"
Sean: "TJ said 'shit'."
You must be mistaken. My sweet young TJ would NEVER say such a thing, especially in a public restaurant, especially in front of his friends.
But one look at TJ's face told me otherwise.
Now here's where things get interesting as a parent of a kid with autism. Am I mortified because he's swearing? Am I thrilled that he's behaving like a typical 6th grader? YES TO BOTH.
It really is an interesting position to be in - I want to cheer and laugh out loud, but I also want to act horrified so I'm a good example for the kids. Good thing I was a theatre major...I can act horrified and scold my cute-as-hell-smiling-bigger-than-ever boy, while I'm cheering as loud as can be on the inside.
By the way, things went downhill from there. In the parking lot, TJ started yelling, and I mean yelling, "Forget You Crazy Knucklenuts! Get it? F-U-C-K?" Then in the car there were a few mentions of "penis" and "prick".....you get the idea.
I really had to act my ass off last night.