At St. Joseph’s College in Standish, there’s a rock wall that’s gotta be about 25′ tall in the campus center. It’s a part of the activities available to the attendees of the Autism Society of Maine’s annual retreat.
There are several routes up, and there are Easy buttons at the top of two of them.
Jake tried back in 2013. He failed. He got to about 6 feet off the ground, and panicked.
Long before we got there this year, Jake declared that he would climb the rock “fing” and push the Easy Button. Then everyone would clap for him. I discussed this somewhat in my last post. This is kind of a revolutionary statement, in that a) Jake barely made it up two or three elements, and b) he HATES when people clap for him.
So here’s the scene:
It’s Saturday night, and the kids are tired, and a little anxious at the thought of Beth and I leaving for a week in the pre-dawn hours of Sunday. We’ve just come from the puppet show, where Jake enjoyed everything but the applause (and he shouted at the stage that the puppets were STUPID). By Saturday night, Jake has also FAILED THE ROCK WALL 4 TIMES! This is to be his last chance.
Gabe and Liv go first, to show Jake how it’s done. As always, they rock! Making it look easy, they scurry up the wall. At 8 and 10, there prowess serves to underscore the discrepancy between Jake’s abilities and that of a “normal” 12-year old.
When Jake starts up, he goes slow, and gets stuck quickly. He asks me to “go upstairs and be a hero.” I hand the phone off to Gabriel so I can run up and watch from the balcony. I’m not up there long before he asks me to come back downstairs and be a hero. So, I run back down to support from the ground.
By now, a crowd is beginning to grow. There are a handful of other kids waiting their turn, and a bunch of parents watching Jake’s progress. Keith, the lead respite worker, the guy who told me that his favorite part of the retreat was seeing how much each kid has grown since last year, is there, too. He’s not the only one with a tear in his eye. The best part of this experience is that it’s not just MY kid who’s overcoming his fears and accomplishing something that’s important to HIM, but that it’s ALL OF OUR kids.
The community of autism parents aren’t a competitive bunch. It’s not a game of who has the biggest house, the shiniest car, or the best-behaved child. It’s a collection of people doing their level best to help their child in the best way they know how – and then use the knowledge of what works to help the next kid. I wish I had the words to convey this feeling better. In the success of someone’s child, we carry the hope that one day our own child can succeed. It reminds me of a fortune cookie I got a few months back – Aspire to be great; then help others.
In true BigCalfGuy fashion, it wasn’t perfect. We only captured the first 4 minutes of his climb up the wall. He makes it a little ways, then a little more. He finally gets to the point where he can cheat and put his foot on one of the building’s structural supports. He starts moving very slowly. I think he’s overwhelmed with the growing crowd, the pointers/tips, and the fact that he so WANTS to succeed, but he’s amazingly AFRAID of what happens when one succeeds. He doesn’t want the accolades or the attention. He thinks he does, but once he’s on the edge of his success – he fears it. The available iPhone memory runs out, and I didn’t even realize until after I posted the darn thing to Youtube.
What you miss after the feed cuts out is Jake’s paralysis. The video ends right after his declaration that his legs are sweaty. They were, too. He takes a minute or so between each foot hold. He gets to the button, but hesitates pushing it. The crowd is coaxing, pleading, encouraging him to PUSH THE BUTTON. He tentatively reaches for it once, twice, four times. He shouts for everyone to look away. “No peeking!”
Damn it if most of us didn’t look away. (I cheated – ssshhh!) He finally hits the button, whose mechanized voice says, “That was easy!”
The crowd cheers and claps and laughs. People openly cry. It was beautiful. Jake tells everyone to “go somewhere else!” and “go away!” I think the thought of being lowered into the middle of an adoring mob was too much. We finally got him down, and he’s beaming.
“Say, ‘you did it!’ Is Jake a superhero? Say, ‘I knew you could do it!’ He went on and on with questions for us to answer and statements for us to repeat. He was so excited, and we were so happy. I just wish I could have gotten it all on film. It’s hard to share the emotion while sitting at a keyboard. I’m just not that skilled a writer.
*Author’s note: If anyone wants to gift me with a web-ready HD camcorder with lots of battery life, I can be reached via email 😉