Friday, July 3, 2009

What a difference a year (or two) makes

Archer "graduated" from my university's summer program for first, second, and third-graders this afternoon. Having seen this same closing ceremony three years running, I'm fascinated by the way it encapsulates Archer's growth. I wrote about the first ceremony, the summer he was about to turn six, here. Last year's ceremony (one month short of nine) is blogged here.

What happened this year? The birth of Archer The Ham. His singing was right on cue. As he did the hand movements, he stole glances at his hands and smiled secretly -- the hands that make private number signs when he needs comfort. And most strikingly, he looked confidently out at the audience and performed. The setting and what it demanded were quite evidently clear to him. And every time a song ended, he cut his eyes sideways to see how his family reacted. I held up my hands while applauding, and his face could only be described as beaming.

In fact, only one moment might have tipped off the audience that he's autistic: After he received his certificate (holding it up proudly for our benefit), the next song began. He didn't know what to do with the paper. The girl next to him tried to tell him to prop it up on the chalkboard behind him. But it's like he didn't hear or didn't know he was being addressed. In a bubble of his own, he didn't think to attend to his neighbors or look to see what they did. He dropped the certificate to the floor just as the singing began.

I wish I had video to share, but in the rush to get over to campus, Noel couldn't find the camera. So you'll have to take my word for it. His progress is stunning. Yet his challenges are still there, in the unscripted moments. This morning he insisted on reciting the entire day's schedule to me, including the order of songs and events at the closing ceremony. Secure in the routine and well-versed in the expectations, he positively reveled in the chance to perform. I'd go so far as to say he displayed showmanship. It's the improvisation that's required in everyday life that still trips him up, and of course that's required of most of us many time daily. Nonetheless, what I'll take away from today is how adroitly and gleefully he can play the role of "ordinary kid."

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