Hindsight is 20/20: These photos should have been our warning.
The day we arrived in NY for the Thanksgiving holiday, we saw my sister's children - Jackson, Ethan and Samantha. Samantha is two years old and loves Ben. We have been fortunate to see the cousins quite a bit this summer so the kids feel comfortable around each other. We also reinforce the relationships with family videos from our times together. Samantha has known how to say Ben's name for a long time and talks about him to my sister quite a bit. Seeing Ben is a big deal to her.
My sister does a good job talking to her kids about Ben and helping them understand that he communicates differently than other kids. She explains how Ben loves each one of them, but may express it differently.
Ben loves his cousins too. We watch the same videos and look at the same photos they do. Ben's favorite home video is Family #4 which features a mountain trip with the cousins. Ben literally gasps with excitement when he sees the first scene come on.
So when Samantha approached Ben that first day, he was just as excited, if not more, to see Samantha. And he showed it by grabbing her hair with a vice-like grip. Of course, Samantha reacted with crying and we quickly pried Ben's hands off Samantha's hair, but not before he wrenched a chunk of her hair from the roots. To say she was in pain would not do it justice. I am sure the pain was horrendous, but the fright from feeling attacked may have been worse.
I tell this story because I think we can learn from the way my sister handled the situation with her daughter. She comforted her in every way possible, made her feel physically safe by removing her from the situation and did not force her to interact with Ben. However, she did reinforce what she had been saying all along, that Ben loves her and did not mean to hurt her. It took Samantha, rightfully so, a few days to feel comfortable again around Ben. By the end of our time in NY, I believe she felt okay with him.
For me, I am reminded that when Ben gets excited around people, his way to show love can really hurt. Ryan or myself need to be involved in these interactions to make them positive for everyone.