Boo Bear loves to be out and about in his community and his new favorite haunt is the women’s college down the road, The College of St. Catherine, fondly known as St. Kate’s. One of his PCAs is a student there and is also on the swim team. She likes keeping busy as much as Boo does, so they are a good match. She has coached him in Special Olympics softball and bowling, cheering madly the entire way. St. Kate’s is only a mile from us so it is super convenient. She has started taking Boo over there a few times a week to work out in the weight room and swim laps at the pool. This was a stunning revelation to me. Like most ASD kids, Boo has low tone. His body is long and loose. One of his earlier teachers referred to him as Gumby. It was an apt description. After years of OT and PT, his tone is much better than when he was a toddler but he is still a pretty floppy fellow. But, back to weight lifting and swimming. Apparently, Boo likes to do both. I knew he was comfortable in the water, as his school has a therapeutic pool and all students have swim time at least once a week. I did not know that he could swim. According to Alissa, his PCA, he can do something between a dog paddle and crawl stroke. In other words, he can keep himself afloat and make forward progress in the water. He does not mind water in his face. Since water is a magnet to many children with autism it is crucial that as parents and care givers, we teach them water safety skills. Anyway, at this point, Boo can swim about 2 laps of the pool before he gets tired.
There are other things that Boo likes about being on campus. St. Kate’s is a beautiful school and there is plenty of room to roam. He also loves the cafeteria! Alissa feeds him there after a workout, sharing her meal points. The way to a teenage boy’s heart is through his stomach. Boo loves to eat on campus after a workout. He also loves the fact that there are pretty girls everywhere. Yes, he is on the spectrum, but he is 15 year old boy first. He enjoys working out, eating and being around attractive members of the opposite sex.
When Boo was little it was hard to see the actual person behind the diagnosis. Autism impacted his life in so many ways. He did not sleep, he could not hold still, he was a flight risk, he stimmed constantly and he was non verbal. As he has grown, some of these behaviors have faded a bit, allowing his true self to shine through. He sleeps now, some of the time. He is still a busy guy, but he can sit and focus when he needs to. He is still a flight risk and our house still looks like Fort Knox. With some kids, elopement issues fade as they age. Boo shows no signs of not being a flight risk. He still stims when he is nervous, anxious, and excited, but to me this is so much white noise. I don’t really think about his verbal skills that much. True, he does not use words, but he is a very expressive character. He can sign, use his iPad, gesture, or when all else fails, take a person by the hand and lead them to what he wants. In other words, he makes his needs known. Like other teenage boys he loves watching videos or listening to music on his iPad, going to the gym, eating vast quantities of food, riding in mom’s new SUV, grinning in a goofy fashion at pretty girls, and hanging out with friends.
As an ASD mom I always have one eye to the future. What will happen to Boo when he ages out of the system? Can he work? Will he live with us or in a group home? Most importantly, will he be happy? I still have an eye to the future but I am very mindful to appreciate where Boo is at this exact moment. Right now he is enjoying being a teen. He goes to school, he has extra curricular activities, he has friends and he is active in the community. Right now he is enjoying being a teen and this is a good thing.