Well, that all changed last summer...... I mean, when Ashton started at his (not now) new school placement in the fall of 2011, he didn't know any of the kids and honestly, didn't really seem to care about the other kids that much. He was very much "in his own little world". One of the boys in his class (Grant) kind of buddied up with Ashton and became Ashton's first "real" friend. Ashton still hadn't quite grasped the concept of reciprocal conversations and was not showing much interest but Grant kept on trying to chisel away at that exterior.
Bring in June of 2012, when we met Marc and his parents at the CHKD 8K race. This race was Ashton's 3rd Team Hoyt VB race and Marc's first. What nobody expected (probably least of all, Marc) was the friendship that would become of that first partnership with a rider athlete. It didn't happen right at first, but due to Marc's personality and the way he connected with Ashton, the two of them quickly became friends. It helps that Ashton loves Team Hoyt VB. He loves racing and feeling the wind in his face. Marc, is also an incredibly fast runner (and I'm told pushes the envelope a bit further when Ashton asks to "Go faster Marc! Go faster!" near the end of every race! lol). The two things just kind of melded together and cemented what became a fast and loving friendship. Marc is incredible with Ashton. He accepts that quirky laugh Ashton has, the clapping and flapping of his hands (which does honestly, freak some people out), and learned to chip away at that tough and quiet facade Ashton always displayed. Now when Ashton sees Marc, he gets the biggest smile on his face and it brightens even the darkest and dreary day. He's constantly asking for high 5s and hugs from Marc, which is heart-warming to see. Marc and I have planned several surprises for Ashton over the last few months (2 classroom visits and he came to a race for Ashton's camp) ... the look on Ashton's face was absolutely priceless! Ashton actually has quite a charming smile, but it used to look very forced. It never looks that way anymore, it's genuine and real which is a welcome sight to see. Marc is his very favorite person and all of us are a little worried about how Ashton will handle things this fall when Marc goes off to college. What I find even funnier (and sweet all at the same time) is when asked "Does Marc belong here?" .... Ashton very happily says "YES"! That means he ENJOYS having him around even when it's not expected. Things out of the norm or out of his normal routine used to set him off, in a very bad way. Those upsets could cause major behavior issues.
But the amazing thing about all of this? Ashton actually CARES about people. He (after a little bit of coaxing) helped make a small video to help wish Marc good luck at his XC state meet back in the fall. In return, Marc sent him a "Thank You" video back and it helped Ashton to realize that reciprocating friendship is rewarding and makes everybody happy. He loves chatting and typing on Facebook with Marc (and always claps and flaps when he sees Marc has commented or liked a post he's made) ... he LOVES making him happy, and that in turn, is helping his friendships with others. Marc has really been a large part of what has made Ashton become more social, more a part of "our wold" and has really drawn Ashton out of his "autism world". Is Ashton still autistic? Absolutely. Will he always be? Without a doubt. But, he's learning to be a friend and care for other people and that's going a long ways towards helping him be a functional and contributing member of society.
Ashton actually stood up for a classmate a few weeks ago that was being agitated by another classmate. He walked over to the agitator and plainly said "BACK OFF!" ... This showed a level of understanding, empathy and friendship that he's never really displayed before AND he dealt with it appropriately - which makes me VERY proud! I love that he while not sitting right next to the situation, was able to gauge what was going on and knew how to deal with it. That level of awareness is new. He's never been like that before. I attribute his friendships with that. He genuinely cares about certain people and doesn't like it when others upset them.
Because of the friendships and the ideal school placement Ashton's in ... he's made a tremendous amount of progress, just since September even. It's amazing. His reading level has increased, he's participating in class more and more (both with group work and individual work), he's not fussing about homework, he's just a really pleasant kid to be around. His social awareness is increasing, he's interested in reciprocal conversations and he absolutely adores using the computer for conversing! He especially loves Skype and got to talk to his baby cousin (20months old) and had a blast playing peekaboo and playing pat-a-cake. As I said before, he also loves Facebook. This is good for him, Facebook that is. He can "talk" to someone and have all the time he needs to say what he wants to say without having to maintain eye contact and have that direct back-and-forth conversation all the time. Ashton's also a stickler for spelling so people able to type out a conversation is nice, because he think about what he wants to say and correct it before he sends it. He's just so aware and interested in things going on around him. Love it!
Friendship for Ashton will likely always be something that has to have effort put forth on both parts and more so of the other person wanting to be Ashton's friend. The other person will likely almost always have to initiate the conversations (in person) and help keep him interested. But, he's enjoying the company of people other than his immediate family and that's a huge step forward.
So without further ado ... some pictures of Ashton and his friends (and yes, I have way more of him and Marc .... they do lots of races, etc together! :))
To anyone who ever doubts that your child or young adult with Autism can have friends and even better, BE a friend ... it can happen! I'm constantly amazed at how much having just a couple of wonderful friends can make the biggest difference in one's life. Ashton would certainly not be the young man he's becoming without the special people in his life .... THANK YOU!!!! He loves you!
|Ashton (left) and Grant (right) at the mini surf camp in July 2013|
|Grant and Ashton at Busch Gardens last summer - what a blast we had!!!!|
|"How low can you go?" - Ashton and Marc dancing at the after-party for the GonnawannaRUNagin 5K :)|
|Ashton and Marc at the finish line of the 1/2mi Fun Run|
|BIG HUGS! After the finish of the 1/2mi|
|Ashton and Marc at Ashton's class party :) Love the hats guys! :)|