A summer with my son

Tulika Prasad

Like every year, and like for most parents, the arrival of our summer is preceded by a frantic search for summer camps to keep the kids busy. This year was no different. I looked everywhere and tried every combination, but some were too repetitive, some too expensive and some just not the right fit. Nothing seemed to be interesting enough that I would send my son to.

So, there I was, staring at my son, as he got off the bus on the last day of his school year, wondering how the long summer break is going to play out. with no plan in place, I decided to call this phase the “knowing my son better” period since we were going to be together for pretty much the whole time for the next 2 and a half months. I did have 2 hours of ABA in place for him but that was pretty much all that we had. I had imagined this would lead to a lot of frustration for the both of us - him because of the lack of structure in his day and me because I would not have any time for myself. To say that I was in for a pleasant surprise would be an understatement!

Although I thought “knowing my son better” was a euphemism that I would be using, I actually did get to know my son better. As I would sit with him and talk about different things, sharing nuggets of information while we were strolling in the park or lazing off in the hammock or just chilling in the backyard with a bowl of ice cream, I realized what a quick learner he was. He loved and learned when I talked to him and would mostly zone off when I tried to “teach” him. I think this summer made it possible for me to really know how my son preferred to learn.

We had a lot of idle time that I needed to fill and from my past experiences I knew my son did not care about drawing or painting. Still, I decide to reintroduce some stuff because I could think of nothing else. So off we went to the store to get some really cheap painting supplies and I placed the paints, brush and a pad in front of him and let him do whatever he wanted. We had all the time in the world so there was no rush to paint a perfect picture. There was no rush to be somewhere or do something more important, so we dipped our brush and our fingers in the paint and let our creativity flow. What came out of it was an abstract painting that -- except for me -- no one would hang in their living room, but what I gained out of it was my son’s newfound interest. He did not run away from the table or chew on the brush aimlessly. He painted- circles, blobs and patterns not discovered yet, and I found a possibility of yet another of my son’s potential in those patterns.

With the tight schedule of a school followed by therapies, I normally would stick to the tried and tested food for my son, who has some feeding challenges and difficulty chewing. Now with so much time in hand, I decided to experiment with new foods and new textures that I had refrained from on a regular school day. Pasta salad, noodles, pita bread, wraps, sandwiches, French toast and smoothies of different consistencies. I tried it all. Our lunches lasted longer, much longer than they should, but my son now has a few new favorite foods. I now know that if I have an hour for lunch, my son can slowly but surely chew on a piece of sandwich and enjoy it or that a thick shake may be too much to drink from a straw but if given in small portions in a cup he would slurp it all down with a nice lick in the end, or that a minestrone soup that has too many textures going on for it is not as challenging as I thought it would be for my son. He actually loved it, though he gagged a bit every now and then. If not for the long-drawn summer lunches and dinners, it would have taken really long for me to know all the possible food that my son could eat.

With long summer days, we now had more time to play with our dog, so I let my son use the ball launcher stick to play fetch. Considering how naturally I stick the ball in the launcher and throw it across, I never realized it involved a lot of motor planning and fine motor skills. The first day I let my son try it, he just could not align the stick and the ball together so that they fit and when I helped him, instead of throwing the ball across he flung the entire launcher all the way! But we had all the time in the world, so we kept trying and two-days later he was doing it all on his own. Motor planning: mastered! Same with peeling oranges. At the start of summer, he had no idea what to do with a tangerine. Give him one now and see him peel it all the way through - thanks to the numerous 30-minute mid-day orange eating sessions that we had almost every day. This had been on his OT goals for some time; this summer made mastering it possible.

Summer, cookouts and backyard parties go together, and with my son being home I made full use of the free time I had to have lots of social gatherings and sleepovers. Historically, too many people make my son uncomfortable and he starts acting out and has maladaptive behavior. Now that he was exposed to so many parties and sleepovers so frequently, he seems to be doing much better. His maladaptive behaviors have reduced a great deal and he seems to be doing better tolerating more people. He is even sleeping in new places and trying to interact with other kids a little bit. Social skills will still be a challenge for him, but the little steps he has taken towards that has been possible because he had the time this summer to spare.

With very little structured time, this summer has had its share of challenges and frustrations. But there has been a generous sprinkling of joy in spending so much time with my son that I normally don’t get to do because of his busy schedule during the school year or all the years that I had been sending him to summer camps the whole of the summer break .The playgrounds, the water parks, the long strolls, the numerous ice-creams, the sleeping late, the leisurely afternoons and the staring at starry nights from the hammock - all of that has definitely made the summer memorable. But there is something else that will make this summer special - that fact that this has been a summer of possibilities; the summer when I rediscovered my son and he showed me how much more there is to him than I thought.

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