Years ago Richard and I went to hear Temple Grandin speak (this was before the documentary about her had been made). She had slides and gave a terrific talk about what it was like growing up as an Autistic child in a not autistic friendly world. After the talk she went into the front entrance of the auditorium where she sat near a table displaying her latest book. I went over to tell her how much I enjoyed reading her two previous books and to ask her if she had any suggestions for me regarding Emma’s inability to stay seated when on an airplane prior to take off and again once we landed. (This was something Em had a terrible time dealing with and would get a look of abject panic, before launching into a high volumed scream that had all the passengers covering their ears. We were pretty desperate to find some way to help her cope.)
Temple said she was pretty sure there were sensory issues at work and gave some suggestions of things we might do to mitigate those. I remember thinking that Temple in no way resembled my daughter and then made the assumption that Temple must have been far more able when she was my daughter’s age than my daughter currently was. Whether this is actually true or not is something I cannot know, but a version of this thought process on my part is one I’ve repeated over the years on more than a few occasions. So desperate to quell my fears and worries I have sought to find my daughter’s adult replica. I have made the mistake of comparing an adult, possibly an adult who is now even in their 30′s, 40′s or even 50′s, and then drawn conclusions about what I imagine they were like when they were my daughter’s age.
Comparing Em to any adult has proven to be unhelpful to me, to my daughter and, I imagine to the person I am comparing her to, if they were aware I was doing it. In addition, comparing a child to an adult is never going to give an accurate view of anything, there are too many variables involved. And this kind of thinking completely ignores the fact that all human beings progress, evolve and change. This is an obvious statement when applied to a non autistic child, but somehow I came to believe that my Autistic child was different. I worried she would not progress. I worried she would not be able to learn. I worried because, in part anyway, we were given information about our Autistic child that has been proven to be not true. We were given information that was in direct contrast to presuming competence. Just as Emma no longer suffers when traveling in an airplane, she also now reads and writes and has, as of three days ago, mastered the complicated skill of a “catch” at her trapeze school.
Excuse me while I jump up and down while wiping away my tears of joy. Emma wasn’t able to do a catch upon her first try or second or even third. Em has been going to trapeze school for more than two years. She also goes to gymnastics once a week where she has been working hard for almost three years strengthening her core muscles. In the last month she is now able to do a cartwheel. Emma began learning to type two and a half years ago. She practices every day. She practices reading too. She practices and works really hard. None of this has come easily or automatically, there is no “magic” involved, unless magic means being given the opportunity to work toward her strengths, to learn and practice and the belief that she can and will succeed. Watch that video again, because all her hard work is paying off. Watch Emma fly!
Bungee jumping barefoot – December 2012