Emma washed her hair this morning. By herself. With almost no input from me. Emma is ten years old. Emma has autism. I used to think those few sentences would suffice. Keep it short and sweet, age, diagnosis, what more needs to be said? But I was wrong. Most people who do not live with a child with autism have little or no idea how monumental something like washing her hair unaided is. Okay, so I stood outside the shower and had to do a little coaching – “Lather the shampoo on the top of your head too, Em. Good, now behind your ears, don’t miss the hair on the sides, just above your ears. No, not like that, Em. Like this.” Then I demonstrated by pretending to shampoo my own hair, as she watched me and did her best to mimic my movements.
For the past four years, since Emma began preferring showers over baths, Richard or I have aided her in washing herself and her hair. Richard’s swimsuit hangs in our bathroom, damp evidence of his continued support. The few times I tried to let Emma wash her hair on her own, I regretted it. Once her hair dried, revealing large patches of unwashed and now even greasier hair, it was all too apparent that help was still required. As with everything, it is not that Emma cannot eventually wash her own hair, it’s that it takes a great deal longer for her to learn. Years, actually. Many, many years. ”Maybe we should move to France,” I suggested one day after a particularly lengthy and difficult session trying to get Emma to rinse the shampoo out of her hair. Richard looked at me quizzically.
“They don’t take bathing as seriously as we Americans do.” (To all French people whom I have now possibly offended, forgive me for my blatant stereotyping.)
A bit later Nic announced that he too, would like to move to Paris. When I inquired as to why he thought this was a good idea, he mentioned the museums, the great food, I’m pretty sure he even said something about their coffee being superior, a beverage he isn’t allowed to have. But I knew his desire had more to do with the fact he doesn’t love showering either.
When Emma got out of the shower, she pulled a towel around her body. Carefully she began to dry her feet, legs, stomach, arms, just as she has been coached to do for all these years. ”Em, you’re doing such a great job,” I said.
“Drying by myself,” she said, sternly. Then she corrected herself, “I’m doing it by myself.”
I nodded and smiled at her.
“Mommy, go away,” she said.
So I did.
For more on Emma’s journey through a childhood of autism, go to: Emma’s Hope Book