Let me just start this by saying I am not getting paid by Starbucks, nor am I affiliated with them in any way. I am just a frequent customer and coffee obsessed person. Although, if they wanted to pay me I wouldn’t say no………….just throwing that out there into the universe.
This project of mine started about 5 months ago. Max was going in early to school early on Tuesdays so jack and I were up early and dressed with 45 minutes before he needed to be at school. My favorite place to hang out is the Starbucks in Franklin ma. I love everything about it here. I am typing this from my favorite table, drinking a skinny vanilla latte made for me by Connor, my favorite barista. (More on him later). I needed coffee that morning so I brought jack in with me, got him a juice box and we sat down chatting until we needed to leave. The next time we went I brought my bullet journal and markers in and gave him a pad of paper to scribble on while I charted max’s behaviors (so glamorous a life i lead). It occurred to me that maybe a coloring book would be a better idea, since his aba therapist has been working on his coloring with him. He liked to take one color and cover the entire page as fast as possible to get the task over with. We were trying to get him to slow down and use more than one color in the beginning so I figure our “Starbucks dates” were the perfect opportunity. It worked. He slowed down and really started to pick the colors he wanted to use with intent. “This bottle is blue because its glass. This cloud I am not coloring because its white.” He went from rushing to taking his time and enjoying it. He would hand over his picture at the end with pride and get adorably shy when i gushed over what a great job he did.
Just kidding. I have become the kind of autism parent that likes to see what my kids can do, rather than just sit back and say they wouldn’t like/do/be comfortable with something. So imagine the shock and betrayal on Jacks sweet face when I informed him the next time he finished a picture that he had to pick a stranger to give it to. I think if there was a way for a 5-year-old who is generally obedient and a people pleaser to tell me to fuck off nicely, he would have. He stared at me. I stared back. He accepted that this was his fate, and begrudgingly looked around. He picked the person next to us, walked over, chucked it at her, and ran away. The woman, who has since started saying hi to him when she comes in now, was bemused but accepted it. I looked at her and just vaguely explained that he was shy and working on talking to people. She told jack she loved it and could see that he worked really hard on it and he lit up with pride again.
We did it like this for 2 more dates before I realized a few things. First, people had no idea why he was giving them a picture. When he picked a man, which he did frequently, they would look at me a little uncomfortable and accept it, but it was weird. It took me a few times to realize it the roles were reversed that it may look as if I was sending my kid over to hit on them for me. Ew. Second, he was running away so fast that when they started to ask a question or say thank you he would be back with me curled up on my lap by the time the second word was out of their mouths. The next time we went in I did two things. I brought with me a tiny post it pad to write a note to the recipient. It usually says I am autistic and working on my social skills, thank you for talking to me. That took care of the weird looks, and it made people a little more understanding of a child who was obviously uncomfortable but approaching them anyway. Then before jack went over I set out some simple rules for him, guidelines to follow for the interaction.
- Get their attention
- Say,”I made this for you.”
- Wait and listen to what they say.
- Say goodbye and then come back to mom.
He knows these rules by heart now and does amazing with them. He will recite them by memory before he carries out the task. The only part he has a hard time with is the goodbye part, but he is working on it. He has started asking to go now because I think he gets big confidence boost with every positive interaction he has. He has made friends with a lot of the staff who know him by name, and has given them some of his pictures as well. His favorite barista Connor sat on his break with him, Jack shared his markers and the colored peacefully together. Connor colored him his own cup holder which if it gets lost will be devastating so we keep careful track of it. Jack likes to complete his “work” and then sit at the counter and watch him fly through all the orders working his coffee magic. He asks for Connor if we come and he isn’t here. There are regular customers who know him now, they greet him with smiles and call him an artist. I just stopped writing for a minute because a woman came over to tell me that his picture is hanging on her refrigerator still. Last week we were connected with a mutual friend Facebook who I didn’t get a chance to talk to but posted a picture of his artwork and wrote how happy he was to receive it. The comments brought this weird fluid to my eyes. People who weren’t even there were touched and so happy about it. There was another woman who came over to hug me because her son is on the spectrum, he is 18 now. She said at jacks age she never would have thought of this and she was so happy I have. We hugged and then talked about what puberty will be like. I am still recovering from that image and the community I felt with this woman I had never met.
Now that school is out we are going less frequently, and bringing max also. He likes to sit and read, but did say if I got him a coloring book with bikes in it he would maybe participate. THANK YOU AMAZON. Not paid by them either, but I would happily accept as well.
I guess the whole point of this post could be boiled down to a few simple thoughts.
Baristas are magical unicorns who make amazing creations…..with markers and a cup holder, or the silkiest foam EVER.
Being pushed out of your comfort zone a little can open up your world and your circle in the best ways.
Making yourself vulnerable is important to grow.
Post it notes are always in my bag now.
You can never have enough coloring books because options are important.
And finally, my kid is amazing. I can see the results of all the hard work he has done and he is the coolest 5-year-old ever. If you don’t believe me you can come to Starbucks with us and see the reception my little artist gets just walking in the door.