Friday, October 30, 2015

Halloween Friends

Greg, Chase, Jim, and Sean on Halloween

One year my sons dressed up as their favorite video game characters, Mario and Luigi, for Halloween. Chase, my oldest son is autistic and had become obsessed with the game developed in 1985. Two heroes, Mario and his younger brother Luigi, try to defeat creatures popping out of the sewers below New York City. What’s not to love?

My husband, Dave, known for his infinite patience, had spent hours teaching Chase to play the game, and Chase, like his younger brother Jim, conquered one level after another to win points. But this post is about the boys and their good friends in the picture. Chase, age nine, and Jim, five, wore white painter’s caps with the letters, M for Mario and L for Luigi, marked on the front. Knight, Greg Felten, and Dinosaur, Sean Felten, set out that night to hunt for treats.  

Dave and I had joined a support group for children with disabilities, and once a week we met in the evening at a nearby school. There were 5 families that attended the sessions on a regular basis. Steve and Mary Ellen Felten became our close friends. Their son, Sean, had Down’s syndrome. While parents met in one room, the children played in a classroom nearby with supervision. A volunteer facilitator led our group and it didn’t take long for us all to open up about our stressful lives.

In one instance I told the group that I felt burdened, having to explain Chase’s odd behaviors. I didn’t know what to tell people. Should I explain how my son was affected by autism? Should I apologize when his disruptive behavior was out of control? One solution that stuck with me and, if needed, I still use today, Just say simply, Chase has problems. That’s what we do. You don’t need to apologize for your child or explain anything. It was a simple solution, one I needed to hear from a parent who had been there. Over the course of about a year we attended meetings and learned a lot from each other. 

So I’m thinking this Halloween I will give Mary Ellen a call. Although her family moved down to Paso Robles, we remain friends. I feel like our families bonded like pieces in a puzzle. All of us had much in common. Steve, a winemaker, enjoyed working with Dave on his homemade wine. Mary Ellen, who went back to college to finish her degree late in life, inspired me to do the same. We shared many Halloweens and family birthday parties, football Sundays and summer barbecues. We often talk on the phone and still share the challenges and successes in our childrens’ lives. Raising a child with a disability was not something I could do alone.