After moving to the United States from Trinidad and Tobago in 2001, I decided I had to find some meaning in my life and that this could only be achieved through volunteering. Actually, at the time it was less an instance of soul searching and more of a desperate avenue for me to make friends, but in the end it introduced me to Johnny, who would forever change my perspective on people with autism. I decided on an organization that specifically works with children who have autism as I was already familiar with the affliction, having lived with an uncle with Asperger’s for most of my life.
My friend has very limited verbal skills. He cannot sign and relies heavily on writing to communicate. When I met him, he was seven and could write in a very impressive way. On my first day with Johnny, we did not have his writing pad and pencil and he bit me. In a loud, crowded, busy gym for kids, he was unable to control his emotions and bit me (hard) in an effort to keep himself calm. I tried my best to be understanding, but that bite hurt like the dickens, and just as I was about to scold him be began showering me with kisses on those tooth marks while saying “No biting!”
He was ashamed of himself it seemed, and genuinely apologetic. I could not help but accept that apology and smile at him. I could only imagine how frustrating of a time he must have been having, but instead of lashing out and being a handful I could really see that he was trying with all his might to remain calm. I walked him down a quiet hallway, and he made me sit with him and hug him as he rocked and stuffed his fingers in his ears.
He was having a horrible time it seemed, but when I asked him if he wanted to leave he replied “Having fun”. We were with other kids who were definitely loving the gym and having a great time and it seems he did not want to be the wet blanket. That day, he taught me about how selfish we can sometimes be, and that sometimes, it is okay to put other’s happiness first — even if we are left rocking in a corner with our fingers in our ears.
My buddy likes computers. Actually he loves computers. He is really brilliant when it comes to finding stuff on the internet, is quite savvy with windows and all Microsoft programs, and can fix a problem with ease. I don’t know how he does it but I am always amazed to see him at a computer. On another trip he begged to use a computer before we left home. He wanted to look up an episode of Blue’s Clues but I promised him that we would look at it after we go back at 3pm. He calmed down quite a bit based on my promise, but throughout our day at the Baltimore Science Center he kept asking the time and saying “Time to go!” and I had to keep telling him “Not quite yet.”I gave him a countdown and time line for when we would be getting back.
At last, we got back home only to discover that the family computer room has been locked. Johnny’s father, who had the key, was not going to be home ‘til much later in the evening.
Then the meltdown began!Johnny began to cry uncontrollably, moving his hands in a”stereotypy” DJ-esque fashion) and going haywire. He began to punch himself in the belly and scream. I had no idea what to do! I put my arms around him and held him tight, begging him to calm down. I made a compromise and gave him my phone to play with (thank goodness for smart phones!) until his father came home. He got to watch his Blue’s Clues episodes without interruption.
As I watched him I realized I had learned that sometimes when you want something, you want something and you are entitled to a tantrum when you don’t get what you are promised.
As Johnny gets older, I continue to learn a lot from him. I feel that knowing him has made a huge improvement in my life and has added depth to me as a person. From the simplest of things to the most strange and gross of idiosyncrasies, I am captivated by my little friend and am excited for each and every meeting. I love my buddy Johnny and am happy to be bitten or punched any day if in the end I can make him happy.
Guest Author Bio
Melissa describes herself as “a fast-approaching-30 Trinidadian American who volunteers with a few different organizations in the US”.
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