Friday, April 29, 2016

Angels Among Us

Jack off to summer camp with his buddies
Jack is 15 now. I haven't blogged much in the past couple of years, because he's gotten to that age where he really doesn't like me talking about him. But sometimes I just have to. You know. It's a "Mom Thing."

I'm so proud and happy for how far he's come. Since we took him out of school, he's happy and so much less anxious. We were able to take him off all his prescription meds. He's learning things everyday that I didn't teach him. He built his own computer last summer (with the help and mentoring of one of our homeschool group dads). He knows how to take the cover off and make adjustments to his computer, without help from anyone else. He customized a computer for my brother a few months ago. They bought a "basic" computer, and Jack installed a bigger power supply and a graphics card. He has an amazing sense of humor and makes us laugh all the time.

But the biggest thing that has happened in Jack's life, the one that I'm so grateful for, is that his social skills have grown by leaps and bounds. A friend of his that he's known since he was 7, was here a few weeks ago for a couple of hours. She told her mom afterwards that it was the first time that Jack actually talked to her about something other than video games.

If you've read some of my other blog postings (Autism: Being the Child on the Outside), you may be familiar with the horrible problems we had with the neighborhood children when he was younger. They were not nice to him. As a result, he hasn't played outside in about 6 years. He no longer rides his bike, he doesn't ring the neighbors' doorbells to see if someone can play. He only goes outside if one of us (his dad or me) is with him. Sadly, that's not the childhood I had or envisioned for him.

I give a lot of the credit for his advancement in social skills to the youth program at our church. We got a new Youth Pastor about three years ago. When James first arrived, I told him about our past experiences with the youth group. Jack never felt like he "fit in." The last activity he'd gone to (a Halloween party when he was in 6th grade, about 5 years ago), when I went to pick him up, I was sad to see that he wasn't interacting with the other kids at all. He was so stressed, he was pacing in circles. That was the last youth group activity he went to for a while. And actually, it was the last time he went to church at all for about three years.

But then James showed up. I had a talk with James about Jack. I told him about Jack's special issues, about how he didn't really like to participate in group activities, but he was usually willing to watch. James seemed to understand. 

I asked Jack if he'd like to try going to church again, since we had a new youth pastor and he seemed like a really nice guy. He said he'd try it out. Not only did he enjoy the new youth group, but he actually went to summer camp that year!

Now when Jack walks in at church, everybody greets him with an enthusiastic, "JAAAAACK!!! Jack is here!" There are no cliques. Everyone is accepting of everyone else. Jack looks forward to attending church and Tuesday High School nights. He often reminds me when it's a youth group night and asks me what time we need to leave (no matter how many times we go to the same place at the same time every week, he still needs to ask me what time we will leave).

Back in January, Jack and I went on a trip up to the snow with both the middle school and high school groups. Most youth groups I've known will separate the middle and high school kids, because a lot of times the high school kids (who tend to be bigger than the middle schoolers) will pick on the younger kids. Not this group. I noticed that when the younger kids would come up to say something to the older kids, they would stop and listen to them. And treated them with respect! Awesome!

Somewhere along the way, all the high school kids started sitting together in church, rather than with their families. I often sing with the music team during services, and it always warms my heart to see all the kids lined up in the front row (usually the only place they can all sit together), Jack in the midst of his friends.

When I'm singing, I have to be at church early for rehearsal. On those days, Jack's dad will drop him off shortly before the second service, which is when the high school kids meet. A few months ago, Jack arrived at church and didn't see any of his buddies, so he just sat in a row by himself, while I went on stage to join the music team. I saw some of his friends come into church and sit together on the other side of the sanctuary. Part way through the first song, I saw them all get up and travel en masse around the back of the church and over to where Jack was sitting. I learned later that the Pastor asked them where they were all going. One of the kids said, "Jack is all alone. We have to go sit with Jack." (Sniffle, sob.) What a sweet bunch of kids!

I give all the credit for this great group of kids to James and his wife Kacey. Also his helpers Liz, Danny and Rachel. They all do such a great job loving our kids. I'm sure I'm not the only parent who feels this way. They are truly Angels among us.

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