Do you remember your first real grade school crush? The way your palms went all clammy when you hung your jacket on the hook next to his. The electric panic of trying to play it cool while your stomach inexplicably collapses in on itself: hundreds of words in your second-grade vocabulary, which ones to choose? And you got so thirsty that when you finally got your chance to say something suave, your voice cracked, and it came out like some weird swearing/question- hell-O?, and you wanted to move to a different state. Right. After. Snack.
This is what I imagine it might be like for Roman, every day- maybe minus the burgeoning word mastery. Metabolic storms and chemical explosions triggered by something so small and unassuming as someone sitting in his usual seat on the bus. Whattttt? This is not as it should be.
The people on the bus are all the same, give or take a few, but where will they be sitting? What music will be playing? What will people be talking about? The anxiety is intense, and Roman often opts to let the bus go by on the first pass, only gathering up the courage to step aboard on the return trip.
In fact, a whole play happens every school morning- a bus minidrama. Roman is usually one of the first out to the communal corner that borders our yard, where four other families meet up to form our own stop. He usually has toast in hand, and is on a scooter with light-up wheels, weather permitting. Roman always wears “Spikey,” his favorite orange, faux leather spiked backpack gifted to him by my favorite (okay, only) sister; it contains his lunch, his ice-water bottle, and any number of contraband Playmobil guys and random flotsam. One day I unpacked Spikey after school and was surprised to pull out a red wine cork- I bet the teachers wondered what the story was there!
As soon as we step outside, Romi impatiently asks where everyone is. The moment neighbors start to appear from across the street or from down the road, he scooters out to greet them by their first names- parents and kids alike. The adults chat, kiddos play with our Yellow Lab, or swing on our set. Someone yells BUS! If Roman points his scooter towards the opposite end of the cul-de-sac, it’s a going to be a long wait, possibly in the rain, snow, or *yes* freezing fog.
But if he decides to get on, it’s… still a long wait. There’s the scooter transfer to Jeff or I, then the coy approach to the bus. The aide comes down the stairs to meet him halfway, the bus driver gently coaxing him on (“Come on up Romi, let me see what’s in your backpack today!”). Roman is telling crazy stories, scripts triggered by stress. Tall tales starring aliens and squids, loud noises, and the eating of giant pickles. He eventually puts his left foot on the bottom step, there’s another long pause (suspense!), a feint or two back towards the safety of the sidewalk, then up he goes. I am sure that the line of cars piling up behind the bus all secretly hate me and my belligerent child- only a few might suspect the spectrum at work.
Roman relies on routines, and performs best in distraction-free spaces at school. The rules have to be crystal clear: do these 3 tasks, hand me 3 tokens, and earn choice time. He will not be rushed or otherwise “handled”; he has an uncanny ability to spot this, and he will make you sorry. See how sorry I was to learn this the hard way, here.
This clean lab environment works at school, in the comfort of the resource room, or in Speech Therapy with his wonderfully stubborn teacher- no tokens, no choice. Full stop. But our family is free style. Soccer games and track meets, chorus concerts, movie showings, dinners- sometimes served late, pizza joints, dentists, orthodontists, dog walking, board games by the fire, reading before bedtime, haircuts, grocery runs, impromptu bike rides, hanging out on the hammock, last minute errands, raking the yard, occasional gift buying, staycations, tent camping, and road trips. I like to think there is a good balance in it all, working routinely and living unscripted. Last year, we asked Roman what he wanted to be when he grows up. His reply: A robot. Maybe, *eventually*, we can guide him to aspire to something a little less metallic.