BY DAVE SEVICK
The development of friendships is not something we usually see a lot of among the kids at Firefly, or among most kids living with autism, for that matter, which makes this story all the more special.
Brandon was fairly new to Firefly, having recently been enrolled in our Elementary program. But things weren’t going smoothly for the 6 year-old, as he continued to struggle with behavior issues, often bordering on disruptive, and his clinical team worked hard to help him reduce the frequency of those negative behaviors.
Brandon’s behavior issues were no secret around the halls of Firefly, and even caught the eye of older student in our School-Age Secondary program.
Alex is 17 and had been at Firefly for several years. Seeing Brandon struggle, Alex began to remember his own difficulty when he first arrived at Firefly. The more he remembered, the more he began to see similarities between himself and Brandon, and he expressed an interest to one of has instructors about mentoring the youngster, or helping him acclimate to Firefly more smoothly.
As the two boys got better acquainted, Alex stepped more and more into the role of mentor, often helping Brandon to get to a ‘green’ level, which is the goal of each child. ‘Being on green’ gets the kids choice time, when they can choose the activities in which they would like to participate. Alex earns one hour of choice time each week for maintaining his green status, but he decided he wanted to share some of that time with Brandon if possible, It was clear that Alex was feeling something new that he hadn’t really experienced before: compassion.
A few days later, Brandon was once again having a difficult day, exhibiting more negative behaviors. But the clinical staff worked hard to help him control some of those behaviors, and by mid-afternoon, he was doing much better—so much better that he had earned a little bit of choice time outside. As he ran onto the playground to hop on the apparatus he enjoyed the most---the tire swing, he failed to notice another student already ahead of him in line. It was Alex, and it was just about to be his turn on the swing. But Brandon’s excitement got the bet of him and he jumped ahead of Alex, running towards the tire swing just as one of his clinical staff stopped him to point out that it was not yet his turn. Brandon nodded and looked over at Alex, as if to inquire whether or not this was true. Rather than maintain his rightful claim to the next moment of glory on the tire swing, Alex smiled and said, “It’s OK. You can go ahead. I don’t mind.”
Brandon isn’t able to understand complex emotions yet, and it’s possible he may never develop that ability. But those two emotions were certainly key ingredients in the development of this new friendship, born out of a young man’s own discovery of compassion and empathy, and how good it felt to do something good with the experience.