Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Red-Headed Stranger

By Kodey Toney
Red-Headed Stranger
Jen and I went to the Oklahoma Autism Conference this weekend, and while I had fully planned on writing about the things I learned there it will have to wait until next week, because something happened on Sunday that changed my mind for me. In the past I have written about those moments when I realize that everything we have been working with Konner on over the years is paying off.
Let me rewind to about three weeks ago. Konner had been watching television when he came to me and said, “Daddy, the Peanuts Movie is in theaters. Can we go see it.”
This alone is a great thing. Konner rarely asks for anything unless he really wants it. He is the hardest to buy for on his birthday or Christmas because he doesn’t ask for much. So of course I’m not going to tell him no.
Now, we don’t go to the movies much because of his sensory issues. He doesn’t particularly care for the loud sound system, all the smells and craziness that come along with movies. We usually wait for the movie to come out on DVD and then buy it for him to watch at home. In fact, we have asked him in the past if he wanted to go to movies that we thought he would like and he would tell us that he would wait until it came out on video. 
This was different. He didn’t want to wait. Something inside him wanted to brave the sensory overload and watch Snoopy and the gang.
Since we went on a Sunday night it wasn’t very crowded. In fact there were only four families visiting this night. This kept down the noise and anxiety.
He wore a hooded shirt, and as the lights went down and the sound went up Jen told him that he could put his hood on if he wanted to. He slipped the hood over his head and kept that there to muffle the noise slightly.
I wasn’t sure that he would pay attention, but his eyes didn’t deviate from the movie the entire time. He was zoned in on stories of Charlie, Linus, Lucy, The Little Red-Haired Girl, Snoopy and Woodstock, and the Red Baron. Every time I would look over at him he was locked in on the screen.
Throughout the movie he was giving a play-by-play. He would tell about the things happening on the screen and give his own commentary. This is where I noticed something interesting that made me proud.
He said, “Charlie Brown is really acting shy about the Little Red-Haired Girl.”
I thought to myself, “Wow, he understood that Charlie is being shy.”
For those that think that this is not unusual, children on the spectrum have a tough time understanding emotions. This is something that we have worked diligently with him on for the past few years so that he can take cues from their facial expressions and body language to help him pick up on others feelings.
So in another part of the movie he said, “Charlie Brown is really mad.”
I smiled a Jen a little and she smiled back.
In one of the later scenes he commented, “Charlie Brown is really sad about…,” and went on to explain the scene. Again we looked at each other and smiled.
We were very proud that he had picked up on the emotions based on the characters and how they reacted in the movie.
When the show was over and we began to head home I asked the boys if they enjoyed the movie. They both said yes, so I asked what their favorite part was. Konner said that he liked the parts where Snoopy fought the Red Baron.
Then I asked him how he knew that Charlie Brown felt all of those emotions that he had described throughout the movie. He explained the body language and facial expressions that helped him to key into those emotions.
This is one of those pay-off moments as a parent of a child on the spectrum. This is where all of the therapies and hard work come into play. It’s really a bit overwhelming, but it’s also rewarding to know that you have been doing something right.
If you have a child on the spectrum and you feel that they are struggling with things that you think may never happen…hang in there. Keep up the good work. It will pay off.

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