Clown to Left, Jokers to the Right

The following blog was written by Chris Liss whose son Bobby is served at Grafton’s Winchester campus.

Birthday parties are high-risk social events, especially for children with socially inappropriate behaviors, like hitting people and throwing things. Our son’s newly modified ability – via 15 minute increments and awarded smiley stickers – to control his impulsive hitting afforded Bobby a 5th Birthday Party invitation from a classmate.  Other than family birthdays, this was his first ever invitation. There had been a near miss invitation earlier that year, but that was revoked when Bobby slapped a parent across the face when she kneeled down to ask him to repeat his question.

It would be a low key, backyard party boasting a bouncy house and a magician.  Two loves – jumping and magic! The clock was ticking, so we used this Smiley Sticker/15 Minutes of Fame System to practice party etiquette and not giving away the magician’s secrets. After reviewing lessons, Bobby chose a “behave” word that represented all he had practiced.  “Four.”  Bobby loved numbers. I would use this word to remind him to use all newly honed skills.

We arrived at 2:00 pm.  Adults were inside and children, many children, were outside. Over several weeks, Bobby earned enough smiley stickers for three disposable cameras to use at the party.  Starting in his comfort zone, Bobby snapped photos of adults and asked their weight. Most graciously complied.  When Bobby went looking for a bathroom scale for proof of the Truth, I lured him outside with the hope of a jump in the bouncy house.

After heated negotiations about taking photos of the compressors (we hadn’t practiced ignoring compressors), Bobby said hello to T and made his way to the bouncy house, a camera in each hand.  These cameras were assurance that he would not hit anyone (his hands were full) and he wouldn’t throw anything. He was not letting go of those hard-earned cameras!

I said, “Four” loudly enough for Bobby to hear and he obediently got in line. At his turn, however, he refused to remove his shoes.  I didn’t know you had to take your shoes off for a bouncy house!  He needed his shoes on.  He still wore shoes in the swimming pool! I arrived in time to hear him politely say, “I waited in line and now it’s my turn,” still clutching the cameras. Of course we hadn’t practiced giving up the cameras and taking off your shoes. He was polite about it. We had practiced polite.

Five year old children are rules driven and at this point many of them were screaming, “Get him out!  He’s gonna break it!”  I crawled in and coaxed him out, mumbling an apology. I wanted to scream and let everyone know how much we had practiced being polite and waiting in line.

T’s mom, a gracious host, always had stressed that you should leave on a positive note, so we stayed for the magician. Many children on the spectrum do not like costumes. Bobby would never dress up at Halloween, screamed at the Mall Santa, and reacted badly to clowns.  We never thought to practice clowns. In Bobby’s world and mine frankly, magicians looked like Dad with cards and coins. This magician was a clown. Bobby bolted. I yelled, “Four, four!”  Projectile cameras narrowly missed the magic clown who ducked just in time, just like anyone on a golf course would duck when they heard “fore!”

We left. It was 2:22 pm according to the clock in my car dashboard.  He lasted more than 15 minutes!