I’m baking two loaves of banana bread this morning. They are almost done. I’m waiting for them to be baked through completely. If I pull the loaves out of the oven now, then the center will be gooey and undone. You see, if the loaves are not given the baking time they need, they won’t fulfill the function for which they were created. A semi-cooked loaf of banana bread just doesn’t meet the hopes and expectations of its promise and purpose, does it?
I’ve never thought to compare a loaf of banana bread with the social development of my son, Jake. However, as I am in the middle of reviewing an article on the social skill deficits and differences of children with autism, somehow the banana bread connection just made sense. Social skills are considered essential for children to adapt, cope and succeed in whatever environment they may find themselves. You can definitely tell when a child is not coping in a particular environment, whether it is at school, on the playground, at home, at church, or for that matter, anywhere. Social skill troubles and challenges are observable. These behaviors manifest themselves in the form of anxiety, unhappiness, frustration, and maladjustment. For the child with autism, appropriate social skills have just not baked through in a particular situation. The problem is gooey, messy and may ultimately cause the child to become undone.
Need an example?
Two weeks ago, I took Jake and Caleb to their swimming lesson. When you enter the pool area, you will see parents and child minders (ladies who have been hired by a South African family to care for their children) sit around the outside of the pool to observe the lesson or chat together. There are some seats that are less desirable than others because they are closer to the water’s edge. If you sit here, you will be splashed with large quantities of water as the swimmers exuberantly swim and kick their legs. When Jake, Caleb and I arrived, the only seat available was in this splash zone.
Just as I sat down, water catapulted out of the pool as one of the swimmers dove into the water. I was doused. I laughed. The water actually felt good because it was a warm, spring day. However, for Jake, when he saw his mother all wet, he was undone. Jake took one look at me and burst into tears.
He tried to wipe my wet clothes dry. Of course, that didn’t work.
He scanned the room for another place for me to sit. There was none.
He felt helpless.
He felt confused.
He felt anxious.
Jake wanted to protect me from the pool water, but he couldn’t find a solution to his problem.
Being splashed by the pool water was no big deal for me. However, it was a big deal for Jake. His mind, his senses, and his emotions had been overwhelmed by the fact that his mother was wet and he couldn’t get me to a safer location. He couldn’t get me dry.
I understood what was happening. I’m his mom. However, for the dozen or so adult observers along the poolside, all they saw was a tall, twelve year old boy pacing back and forth in tears. They could hear him talking to himself, but I’m sure his words were unintelligible. He was upset and could not compose himself. To others, his behavior appeared abnormal, inappropriate and odd, I’m sure. Jake was not coping.
When Jake’s swimming lesson started, he struggled to listen and engage. His teacher had to repeat her directions. Instead of looking and listening to his teacher, Jake was looking at me and imploring me to move to another seat. To ease Jake’s mind, I stood up and moved away from the splash zone. Finally, some parents left the area and I was able to find another seat. Only then, did Jake’s mind and heart finally calm down.
One of Jake’s character strengths is his loyalty. He will guard, shelter and protect his family and those he loves with dogged determination. He was trying to do that at the pool. Yet, when I was covered with water and Jake couldn’t protect me, Jake’s frustration and inability to cope with his circumstances plunged him into the big, gooey, sticky center of uncooked banana bread. To those on the outside of that loaf, there would be no comprehension and little empathy of how uncomfortable and how uncooked Jake felt.
Instead of reaching out to understand and help Jake, everyone, with the exception of Jake’s teacher, his brother Caleb and me, remained in their seats and watched Jake implode. This isn’t the first time this has happened. It won’t be the last time either. We continue to work with Jake to help him gain tools and consider strategies to help in unpredictable social situations.
For the pool scenario, if there is no other seat available than in the splash zone, Jake and I decided that I will stand and wait until a parent leaves the pool area before sitting down to watch him swim.
Like I said, I’ve never considered comparing Jake to baking a loaf of banana bread before. However, the analogy makes sense. Jake’s growth and development continues. He’s not done yet. He’s working things out and dealing with the gooey, sticky, messy social situations that present themselves in life. His behavior may appear odd or abnormal at times. But when you analyze the reasons for these behaviors, they make sense. There are reasons for why we all act as we do. Some of Jake’s behaviors appear over-the-top or exaggerated and they are not always easy to deal with as his mother. However, I am determined to help my child and work things through with him.
I do not know why autism and its life long effects entered our lives. However, I can say that Jake’s heightened sensitivity, sweet compassion, his dogged determination and intense loyalty are blessings; even if they are exaggerated and overblown at times. He is communicating with us. The question is whether we will take the time to listen to what Jake is saying and respond to his need, rather than sit in fear, awkwardness and judgment.
In Psalm 33, it says:
We wait in hope for the Lord;
he is our help and our shield.
In him our hearts rejoice,
for we trust in his holy name.
May your unfailing love be with us, Lord,
even as we put our hope in you. Psalm 33: 20-22 NIV
Jake is growing up and learning how to cope with an unpredictable, unsettling world that splashes water all over his mother. He is like an uncooked loaf of banana bread that needs to be baked through to fulfill his God-given purpose. The key is the wait time. I cannot force Jake to grow and develop faster than the time that has been allowed for him.
What can I do?
I can wait in hope for my God to help and shield my son. I can trust in the unfailing love of my God to be with Jake today, tomorrow and throughout his life. And when social situations get gooey and sticky, I pray that my God will continue to help my son learn how to cope and find strategies to overcome them.
Photo by Soma.R of Flickr