46: Oliver Wears the Pants

46: Oliver Wears the Pants

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Raising Kids on the Spectrum

Oliver Wears the Pants

The only normal people are the ones you don’t know very well.

~Alfred Adler

Sometimes I think I worry too much about my special needs son Oliver. It’s not so much that I worry . . . but that I just always assume he’s going to be the odd man out. Not without reason of course — my son is one weird little guy. I personally like this about him, but I’m also aware of the fact that “weird” isn’t a sought after quality in elementary school.

The fact that he’s in kindergarten makes everything a little bit easier. He’s given some leeway for being a “little kid” and the other kindergartners are still kind of goofy in their own ways, regardless of how much more typical they are. So Oliver continues to fly under the radar, doing his own thing, his own way, and isn’t largely concerned with how he may be perceived.

That’s another thing I like about Oliver. He’s his own man. So other kids are moving on from their old preschool interests and now run around playing Star Wars? Whatever — he’s still happy with his Thomas trains. They think trains are for babies? Good — more trains for him. He’s not abandoning his favorite toys just because of what someone says. He has staying power.

He is also so incredibly comfortable in his own skin. At five years old, he’s a very big kid. Over sixty pounds, he’s as tall as some of the second graders. And he is solid. I was also pretty tall for my age and a fairly sturdy little girl, but this always made me feel awkward. Like I was just a little too much. I felt heavier and weighed down by my size. But Oliver is sure-footed and agile. He uses this sense of weightiness as an anchor. He stands firm and holds his ground. A physical quality that matches his personality.

And when I say Oliver is “comfortable in his own skin” I mean that quite literally. He likes to wear as little clothing as possible. Coats are constricting and only to be tolerated in the coldest of temperatures. He has little patience for layers. They are peeled off as quickly as they were applied. And once inside, clothes are hardly necessary. Really — what purpose do they serve when not protecting you from the elements?

Other children run in after school kicking off their shoes and flinging aside coats, seemingly deaf to their parents’ reminders to please put them in the closet. My son does this as well, but he takes it a step further by adding his pants to the trail of outerwear.

Oliver doesn’t wear pants at home. In fact, he doesn’t wear pants in any home where he feels at home. It’s not uncommon for me to walk into a neighborhood play date to find my pantless son building Lego towers or lounging in front of the television. It doesn’t matter if all the other kids are fully dressed. To each his own, you know. It’s not that he’s rude — he’s just comfortable. His state of undress is really just a testament to your superb hospitality. Kudos — you hostess with the mostess, you!

I’ve come to accept this little quirk in the same way that I surrender to my daughter’s insistence on wearing nothing but pink. It’s not my preference . . . but I respect their choices as long as they’re not hurting anyone else.

At the end of the day, I’m just thrilled if Oliver is at least wearing underpants.

Aside from his current trajectory toward being “the naked guy” at college parties, Oliver is quite well behaved. He’s a nice boy and very accepting of others. Feel free to take off your pants at his house too. He doesn’t judge. He likes other kids as a general rule and will only be put off by unpleasant behavior. Even then, he doesn’t take offense — he just moves on. It’s like he has this innate sense of there being plenty of room for everyone. If you give him some space, he’ll give you yours. And in such a “my team/your team” world, I find this both brave and wise. I hope he always has the strength of character and confidence required to maintain that approach to life.

So yes — he’s a special needs kid. He’s different. He’s maybe even a little weird. But he’s fine.

The other day at the YMCA, I glanced down at the Kids’ Gym to see Oliver standing still while other children raced around him. I kept watching and realized that he wasn’t just standing still, he was frozen to the spot. His arms were stiff at his sides and his knees were locked. He stared straight ahead and looked as if he was trying not to blink. He stayed this way for long enough that even I, the head cheerleader for Team Different, thought he looked totally bizarre.

Time stood still as Oliver stayed still. Blurred shapes of playing children swirled around him, but I only had eyes for my son, the statue. I thought, “What are you doing? Come on — just move already before the others notice. Walk. Play. Be normal. Please.”

Then a small figure disengaged from the only vaguely perceived chaos around Oliver and tapped him on the shoulder. Just like that, he came back to life and ran out of view. And I suddenly understood. Oliver wasn’t playing some strange game of his own, oblivious to everyone around him and their potential scorn. He was playing Freeze Tag. They all were. He was part of the game. One of them.

Talk about not seeing the forest for the trees.

Oliver isn’t always alone. Sometimes he really is part of the group. And sometimes he’s not, but it doesn’t matter because he’s always exactly where he wants to be. There is always a place for him.

I never need to worry about Oliver. He’s not oblivious to the world around him. He just makes his own decisions about when and where he wants to engage with it.

He’s come a long way in the past few years, and the truth is, he has a long way to go. But I have more faith in him than I do in almost anyone else in my life. He is my constant and he is true to himself. I have no doubt that he will always find his place in life. One where he is happiest, regardless of what anyone else thinks about it. He is now and will hopefully always be his own man. With the support of his family and friends, and without any fear of ever truly being alone. With or without pants.

~Kate Coveny Hood

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