Wednesday, November 16, 2011
We've reached the stage where people have no idea what to make of Oli. He doesn't talk intelligibly--or at least not the way that a boy just weeks prior to his fifth birthday should. He doesn't maintain eye contact, engage, or ask questions. His play is repetitive, often little more than the imitation of a routine act like tying his shoes. He doesn't understand the concept of personal space. Sometimes, he stares blankly into the air, and even when you call his name he doesn't snap from wherever he is back to the reality of now.
This makes people--children, adults-- uncomfortable. They ask him questions, wait for answers, then fidget and look slightly embarrassed when nothing comes. They smile at him and seem slightly put off when he does not immediately smile back. They finally tend to look just past him, or avert their eyes altogether and settle on one of the children who seems able to meet these minimum human standards.
People don't know what to do with folks like Oli who just don't fit into our notion of what it is to be a man, woman, or child of a certain age, or certain standing. Mental illness, cognitive difficulties, processing disorders ... these things make the general populace squirm, I have found.
The funny thing is, animals have no such qualms. If I had a dime for every puppy that bounded a ten feet out of its way to throw itself into Oli's lap, or every horse that patiently let my little man nuzzle into its neck, or every rabbit that stood stock still to let Oli stroke its long back ... well, I'd be rich.
Oli is gentle with animals. He connects with them on a simple, mutual level. There is an ease about him when something small and fuzzy settles into his lap. It's not something that I see when he mashes his play-doh in frustration, trying so, so hard to mold it into the same ball he sees Mani mastering with ease. It is something else. Something instinctual and yet profound.
With animals, Oli can simply be. They don't ask him questions that he can't answer, or rate his performance based on a set of skills he can't comprehend. They don't look at him funny when he flaps his arms or covers his head and shrieks for no reason. All they ask is that he doesn't tug too hard at their vulnerable spots, or squeeze in places that hurt. If he does either of these things, they will shy and he will be left empty-handed. No more stroking of velvet fur. No more warm, sweet snuggles. No more rough tongue lapping at your wrist.
Oli gets this.
And the animals get him.
It's good to be accepted and loved, no matter how small the creature offering you its trust.