Last Friday I met with Jon (Noah's TSS) and Pam (his behavioral specialist consultant) to "debrief" from summer camp.
My plan was to briefly discuss the incident in arts and crafts, and then make sure I had a good understanding of how Noah handled camp overall, and how camp handled Noah. I hoped to leave the meeting with some concrete ideas on how we could better prepare everyone for next year, and some suggestions on which counselors we should request.
I certainly wasn't expecting to hear that camp had been all unicorns and rainbows for Noah. (It's hard to reach that conclusion when you measure success by the fact that he wasn't kicked out.) I did however think that Noah had fun this summer and that overall we could say it was successful, because yes, he wasn't kicked out.
Instead what I heard was that Jon and Pam feel Noah would be better off at a new camp next summer where he can start fresh. Apparently the incident with the arts and crafts staff wasn't an isolated event as far as the negativity expressed towards Noah and the lack of support and encouragement he was given by the staff in general. (Don't get me wrong. I will be the first to admit Noah can be a real pain in the ass. Even when you understand why he behaves the way he does it wears on you. If you don't understand he can be close to unlikable.)
Noah wasn't well liked by the staff or kids at camp. And where the staff could have stepped up and encouraged Noah to interact, and encouraged the other kids to be kind, they essentially let Noah isolate himself.
Noah is struggling more socially than I had realized. His behaviors are pushing kids away. He's become different enough that the other kids are noticing. And the fact that he is physical doesn't help.
Noah has never isolated himself from other kids before. That fact that he is isolating himself now tells me that he is more aware than we thought of how others perceive him. He may be aware, but he doesn't have the skills yet to understand why, or how to change it.
The improvements we saw earlier in the summer, with the latest medication changes, and after the intensive attachment therapy gave me hope. It also took off just enough of the pressure from one point on the complex equation that is Noah that I could start looking at other points.
So I have been paying more attention to how Noah interacts with other kids and adults outside our immediate family. Before his problems with other kids were more that he was too aggressive and impulsive, but in general the other kids liked him. Interacting with other adults has always been difficult for him, but I think I have a better understanding of why that is now.
Socially Noah is behind his peers are and I think that gap is growing. And I have done nothing to help this.
I've spoken before about my own social anxieties, and how I never made connections with other mothers in our neighborhood. And because of this Noah doesn't have play dates. And we don't have friends in the neighborhood that we can just hand out with and let the kids play.
Just like Noah became the "marked" child at camp, he's become the "marked" child in our neighborhood. Riding the "short bus" hasn't helped at all with the isolation.
And I see now that I have not done enough for Noah. That I have let him down. Not only have I not been a good role model for him when it comes to friendships, but I haven't taken the reigns myself to create situations for Noah to socialize in. I've let the times I've been burned keep me from trying again.
And then I read this months book for the "From Left to Write" Book Club, Cowboy & Wills by Monica Holloway. Cowboy & Wills is a moving memoir about Holloway's young son Wills, who is diagnosed with high functioning autism, his golden retriever puppy Cowboy, and the power of the love between a boy and his dog.
Sometimes you read a book that absolutely resonates with you. That touches you and makes you say over and over again, "wow, yes, me too!" And sometimes you read a book that makes you see yourself in a different way. Or inspires you to be more than you already are.
Cowboy & Wills was that book for me. I read how much Holloway did for her son Wills. The hours of therapists, the social events she supported him through, even though she really just wanted to take him home where he wanted to be. Doing things with him that forced him to be in public and interact with the world.
I have not done that enough with Noah. I have let my anxieties get in the way.
I told Rich the other day that we have got to do more for Noah. I knew what he was thinking. Are we still not doing enough? What more can we do?
We have to put him in social situations and help him succeed.
I haven't quite figured out how I'm going to do this, but I will. Noah deserves my best. I owe him my best. And I will find him friends. Hopefully of the two legged variety and not the four legged. Although I'm not going to rule out a puppy!
This is an inspired post written for the "From Left to Write" Book Club. A copy of Cowboy & Wills was provided to me by the publishers. I am not being compensated for this post and all opinions are my own.