Thursday, May 25, 2006

En garde!

While grocery shopping this morning I was startled to see t-shirts commemorating "J-Mac"'s basketball achievement, with his picture & the date it happened. As I perused the shirts, I was appalled to see that they had the words "Fight Autism" at the bottom as the take-home message... Was his accomplishment an example of "fighting autism"? I don't think so... I think it's a very good example of someone working with their autism to achieve something others thought not possible. All in all, it was depressing to see this sort of propaganda publicly trotted-out by people who really don't know what they're talking about or know that it's offensive at all... I am contemplating offensive action myself- we'll see...

The reason I entitled this entry "En garde" was to commemorate a much more positive achievement- B took his very first fencing lesson yesterday :) B has been at odds with various martial arts since he was in kindergarten & encountered a bunch of "karate boys" in his class whose parents thought giving their 5-year-olds karate lessons would teach them discipline... what it did teach them was how to kick other kids, particularly those who did not take karate lessons :( B was not impressed by this at all & I was bummed because I did hope he'd get into martial arts at some point, for the discipline, yes, & the philosophy, & the many physical benefits to a kid with motor-planning & proprioceptive difficulties. Sigh. Even his fave babysitter's taking Aikido & our youngest goddaughter's getting her black belt in karate didn't change his aversion to martial arts, although he softened up a bit this year in gym when they were doing a bit of Tai Kwon Do & actually participated. So, C & I were nonplussed but pleased a few weeks ago when B mentioned that he'd like to try fencing lessons. C has a family of patients who run a fencing school & who had already invited him to bring B to check it out, so we knew where to go. When C called to make the appointment he mentioned B's AS, OCD, & Tourettes- mostly so they would be prepared for his lack of co-ordination & tics. B knew about the appontment for a week & never wavered once, which was a very good sign. Yesterday we took him after school for his first lesson...

We got there a little early & B was able to watch the student before him, an adult with some skill at fencing already. I was not really aware of how closely B was observing until it was his turn. He shook hands with the instructor & endured some good-natured comments about his long rat-tail, unusual height (for his age), & broad shoulders without any tics or aversive behaviours. (I made sure after the class to underscore the good-naturedness of the comments, since B can be very sensitive about his body, & observed myself that B & the instructor have similar physiques, which might mean that his will be good for fencing...) He went into the big fencing area, full of lines marked on the floor, & began his lesson while C & I watched through a big, glassless window. The instructor began with the en garde position & told B that it would feel weird at first, but his muscles would get used to it with practise. B then learned to advance & retreat, trying to keep his knees bent, feet in a certain position, body straight, & shoulders relaxed, leading with the front or back foot depending on the direction he was moving in. Only once did the instructor ask B to stop looking at his feet, & only once did he ask B to let him finish what he was saying... to which B replied "my mouth sometimes just goes off" (C & I were amazed by B's self-possession & insight...). Then B learned the motions for thrusting & lunging & they practised them over & over, making a game of it. Occasionally B would mention something he'd observed the other student do, appropriately, & I was glad that he'd been able to observe someone else before his lesson. After 15 minutes of practise, my kid was ready for a mask & foil... the instructor explained the parts of the foil, how to carry it safely, how to manage the mask & gloves, & B just did it all without any problem. I had been worried about the mask because B won't even wear a Halloween mask... but it was no big deal other than how to get it on & off properly. The only major snag they hit with the foil was that B didn't actually want to hit the instructor in the chest with it as instructed. So, he took the protective vest off, put it on B, & poked him a few times to assure him that he wouldn't be hurting him if he lunged at him with the foil. B was able to do it then, & they practised lunging for the rest of the 1/2 hour lesson.

I felt the most wonderful glow watching B's lesson. B tolerated so many things that would normally trigger him repeatedly, & only ticced once the whole lesson! He focused beautifully & found his body responding very well to these new demands. He also was able to answer many of the questions the instructor put to him, & listened when he was told that he didn't need to apologise every time he did something wrong (something he's obsessive about at home...). I saw a side of B that I rarely see & it was a delight. Plus- B loved the lesson & wants to go back. He asked me this morning if we could practice his advancing & retreating at home & I assured him that we would, so he'd be able to make progress before next lesson :) This is the first physical activity that B has felt confident enough to try & been committed-to enough to risk learning (as in not doing well at first & then getting better). B does this routinely intellectually but rarely physically (I can think of passing the deep-end swimming test, but that's about it...). It was splendid! He's growing up!!!


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