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When My Son on the Autism Spectrum Asked If He Could Take Ballet Lessons

Three years ago, when my son, Gavin, was diagnosed on the autism spectrum, we were advised to make a new road map for him. It was recommended that we move forward cautiously with our expectations of his growth. We needed to be aware that everything we had planned for him may or may not happen.

I watched friends post on social media about their children’s accomplishments with bittersweet emotions. Many of the posts were about children who were Gavin’s age or younger, but they were doing things he was nowhere close to achieving. I was obviously happy for my friends and their children, but my heart broke a little each time wondering when/if we would ever be able to share in those same milestones.

This week, I got to share in some of the events I thought might not ever happen. They were destinations I wrote off our road map three years ago. These events came later than I had originally planned, but the great thing is we just took a long detour.

On Wednesday, Gavin started his last year of preschool. This event was huge for a multitude of reasons. He was entering an inclusive environment instead of being in the autism sub-separate classroom. Secondly, we decided late this summer to move him from his school to one closer to our apartment, since he no longer needed the sub-separate room.

He was scared, as any child would be, entering a new school, but he asked my husband, Doug, and I if he was going to a new school because he was a “big boy.” What an amazing observation! Even Gavin was able to recognize his own growth and realized this new school was almost like a reward for his hard work.

Organized sports and activities were another area of our road map that I had deleted from our thoughts. I watched Gavin face challenges for years to listen to teachers, to play well with others and to follow directions for an extended period of time.

However, in late March, after Gavin switched classrooms, he was invited to a birthday party at a gymnastics center. The party focused on a ton of group activities and involved kids waiting their turn while they sat peacefully in a circle. I had been to these parties before when my daughter, Kendall, was younger, and to bring Gavin to similar one increased my anxiety level. I was sure he would not sit still, and I would be chasing him around the room the entire time. However, to my surprise, he was participating fully. He listened to everything the instructors asked the birthday guests to do. He waited his turn patiently and participated enthusiastically when it was his turn. I saw a new boy. A boy who was developing at his own pace and was finally ready to be involved in social activities.

Later this spring, Gavin joined me at one of Kendall’s ballet lessons. He leaned over halfway through and asked, “Next year, I do ballet?” I was shocked. This was the first time he expressed interest in a group activity that wasn’t school related. I leaned over and said, “Sure, Gavin. If you sit quietly through the rest of her lesson, you can do ballet in the fall.” I have never seen him sit so calmly before. He didn’t make a peep. He watched for the next 30 minutes in silence, and when the class ended, he leaned over and said, “Now I do ballet next year?” It was impossible to say no.

I was ecstatic to enroll Gavin in ballet, yet I knew we had one last huge step to get him there — the clothes. Even if Gavin wanted to be a dancer, I was concerned that he didn’t realize this meant he had to wear a certain outfit. After convincing him that he wouldn’t wear the same clothes as Kendall, he finally understood he needed a white shirt and black pants. I asked him to wear black shoes for class, but he insisted on white. I think it was the one way he felt like he had some control of the situation.

This Saturday, after a short struggle to get him dressed, we walked Gavin over to his first ballet class. He followed the directions as I would expect any 4-year-old would. He understood the directions, and in normal Gavin fashion, he spent the bulk of the lesson taking in the room and studying it so he knew where things belonged. All and all, he did great, and I know going forward he is only going to get better.

We are beyond proud of him not just for his ballet lesson, but for also wanting to be involved with other children.