Stories From the Heart: Learning Friendship
“Don’t look at me”, “Don’t touch me”, “Don’t sit near me”, and “Too loud, too loud” are the sensations that scream from within. “Why does the world have to be so confusing?” “It hurts me.”
My Molly is 5 years old. She came to us at 20 days old as a foster daughter. Molly did not bond to me, but to my husband. Very unusual for foster babies in our home. I knew there was something different about Molly, but what?
At three years old Molly was diagnosed with Autism, as tears rolled down my cheeks. I suspected Autism, yet to hear the words out loud still hurt a mother’s ears. By this time, we had adopted Molly and had much love invested in her.
We struggled to help Molly adjust to this world so full of strong contrasts for her. A light breeze to us, felt like a tornado to Molly with “things” swirling about. The tornado crashed across her body. The leaves blowing in the trees the sound of a freight train. The sights and sounds that we crave are the very same things that hurt Molly.
Human contact was tolerated at best. “Why won’t Molly sit on my lap?” my husband questioned in complaint. I told him, “You have to be a chair”. “I let Molly sit on my lap and stop my longings to wrap my arms around her.” Gently, I explained, “Molly gets on your lap, you hug her. “Quick as a flash, she’s gone.” “You have to learn how to just be a chair.”
An emotional connection with another person is often a rare thing for a child with Autism. I told Grandma, “Don’t feel bad, Molly doesn’t hug me either.” While her cousins played in their little group, Molly sat on the sidelines comfortable in her own world.
I remember my first, best friend, Kathy. We shared everything. We played together every day, back and forth at each others’ house. We held hands. We were best buddies. I wanted Molly to know the gift of friendship, yet how this would ever happen was a mystery to me. That kind of closeness with another human was against the grain of who Molly is. So many obstacles in the way.
Last year Molly attended a special school for Autistic children. She quietly sat in class, day after day. At the beginning of each school day, Molly would whisper, “My name is Molly.” Molly was in class, but not really with the class. They could have been in another room for all that it mattered to her.
This year began with a new school and a ride on the bus. How frightening the bus was for Molly. A new driver? A man driver? This sent Molly in a spiral of anxiety. She craved sameness in order to have some control over her world. Weeks went by with anxiety and tears.
One day a wonderful thing began to happen. Molly started watching a little girl, Claire, during playtime. They started swinging next to each other. No words were exchanged, just closeness, sameness.
The teachers began to tell us, “Oh, Molly and Claire, they are next to each other always!”
Molly and Claire began sitting next to each other on the bus. Always. Soon, at home, Molly would mention Claire’s name. We began sending little stickers and such for Molly to share with Claire on the bus. Claire would bring little things for Molly. We all knew something special was happening and happily encouraged them.
The school year came to a close and soon summer school began. Molly cried when she saw a new bus driver. She didn’t see Claire on the bus, either. Now her world was beginning to unravel. Getting Molly on the bus that day was not going to be very successful. Molly cried, her eyes searching the bus not knowing what to do. Nearly hysterical, Molly suddenly saw another classmate, Katerina, on the bus. She started crying, “I need Katerina, I need Katerina.”
It was simple and to the point. Molly needed human contact. Molly needed Katerina. Tears filled my eyes as I saw Molly reach out to yet another child as a bridge to the world. My heart aching for the distance she had traveled to reach outside of herself.
Molly is learning friendship and human contact is a good thing. I am reminded through Molly that friendship does make the world a gentler place.
* Stories From the Heart is an ongoing series of user contributed heart warming stories, that shine light on the Autism experience.