I often write about the struggles we encounter having a child on the spectrum. It is part of our daily lives and as with any kid some days are better than others. As my son gets older, he’ll soon be 10, social encounters are getting more difficult and his struggle more obvious. It is hard to find the balance between pushing him out of his comfort zone and not asking too much so that he has a meltdown. So when he has own idea that will push this boundary we do our best to make it happen.
For the second year in a row, he has opened and worked his lemonade stand – Gabe’s Electric Lemonade. Our mens group at church sell’s smoked meat every year on July 3rd as a fund-raiser and they have let Gabe set up shop with them the last two years. This year he wanted to add cookies to the menu which happened to go over quite well.
This whole process is excellent for him and forces him to face his own fear of interacting with people. He does not like talking to strangers. He does not like looking people in the eye or at their face for that matter. He’s very anxious about knowing what to say and how to initiate a conversation. However, one of the strengths of being on the spectrum is when he finds something he’s interested in, he’ll jump in with both feet. So he is willing to endure all these things that make him uncomfortable and struggles to do in order to sell lemonade and be a “business owner”.
He is very uncomfortable during the first thirty minutes or so. I have equipped him with a simple script which helps ease the anxiety of knowing what to say. It’s amazing to see him ask people who are there to buy meat if they would also like some lemonade or a cookie because I know how truly difficult it is for him to do. With each sale you can see his confidence and excitement grow and he gets settled into the routine. A few people try to joke with him which will throw him off. He doesn’t know how to respond to jokes and isn’t even sure if they are joking. In most cases he’ll turn to me for help. Jokes or teasing are like a foreign language to him so I often consider myself an interpreter. He usually last two hours or so, but when he’s done he’s done. It’s time to pack up. We had a few people come as we were packing up and he told them we were closed. I explained to him how that sounded rude and was potentially costing him five dollars in sales. He sold them some lemonade.
To often, with kids on the spectrum, we focus on the hard stuff. A lot of our time is spent doing therapy of one kind or another and we forget how much growth can occur when we encourage their natural curiosity and interest. He gained so much pride and confidence by facing his own anxieties. He also learned to trust his abilities instead of questioning his disabilities. He’s learning a valuable life lesson, When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemonade. (And chocolate chip cookies makes everything a little better).