Teaching a Name

When Emma was a year old, in a moment of impatience we bought her a baby doll for Christmas.  Despite the fact she showed no interest in dolls of any kind, despite the fact she showed little interest in any of the toys we tried to entice her with.  Emma was much more of a doer than a child who sat happily playing with a toy.  This was a kid who liked to move.  Take her to the playground and she made the other kids look lethargic.  I admit, I took a certain degree of pride in her rejection of all toys and her desire to move and run and slide instead.  Emma’s disinterest reminded me of my father who shunned all holidays, grousing that they no longer celebrated what they were intended to, but instead fed the insatiable Hallmark Greeting Card’s appetite for cheap sentimentality and  had become a financial boon for ad agencies.  His grumpiness about it all, increased with his age.   Emma’s resolute rejection of all toys, her disinterest in videos, movies, and anything else that required her to sit still, would have made my father proud.

The baby doll we purchased was pudgy, with blonde pigtails, and came with a little toilet, hairbrush, mirror, bathrobe and towel.  All that was missing was a mani/pedi kit and perhaps some massage oil.  I bought a couple of little playsuits for the doll and wrapped everything up in pretty paper with a big satin ribbon.  We had to help Emma as she showed no enthusiasm in her gifts piled under the Christmas tree.  She begrudgingly humored us by tearing open the present, but showed no excitement, it was as though it were a chore,  something that was expected of her.  When she saw the baby doll, securely fastened in it’s box with a clear window so that she could see it, but not actually reach it, she lost all interest and wandered off.  “Emma, look!  It’s your very own baby doll!”  I exclaimed.  “What are you going to call her?”  Being ignored during those early years was something we had grown used to.  Still, I persisted, carrying the baby doll over to her, I said, “What’s her name?”  Emma refused to look at me or the baby doll.

Years later, during out DIR (Developmental, Individual Difference, Relationship-based Model, also known as floortime) phase, the baby doll, now joined by a number of other baby dolls, groovy girls, Jessy and Woody from the Toy Story, Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride, each one evidence of our ignorance and dogged determination to engage her in the world of make believe, lay untouched in a pink plastic bin near her bed.  In a moment of inspiration I yanked the baby doll from its bin and thrusting it in Emma’s face, asked, “Oh look Em!  What’s her name?”  Emma said nothing, but I persisted.  “What do you call her, Em?”  And then Emma spoke.  “Doll,” she said.  “Yes, but what will you call her?”  I was nothing, if not determined.  “Is her name, Tabitha or Katherine, Anastasia, Cynthia?  What’s her name, Em?”  The idea that naming something was not a concept Emma fully grasped, never occurred to me.  When Emma then repeated the names I was throwing out, I eventually gave up and as I was leaving, Emma said, simply, “Doll.”

And of course, she was right.  It was a doll.  To Emma that was all she was.  A doll.  For a child with little or no ability to understand the world of make believe, the idea of naming a doll, must have seemed bizarre.  Why would one do that?

Last weekend, at Barnes & Noble, I showed Emma a book called Biscuit, a beginning reader book.  Emma took the book from me, sat down on the carpet and pointed to the first word.  “Biscuit, that word says Biscuit.  That’s the dog’s name,” I said.  Emma nodded and continued to read the book, stumbling over a couple of unknown words, but for the most part being able to get through it with little help from me.  As I sat with her I remembered her baby doll and it occurred to me, she does not fully understand the concept of naming.  It is something I will attempt to teach her this weekend.

For more on Emma’s journey through a childhood of autism, go to:  Emma’s Hope Book.com

3 responses to “Teaching a Name

  1. I swear sometimes I think our Emma’s are soul sisters:) Emma was never interested in toys. She too was doer, and getting her to sit still was and is a giant undertaking. I too took pride in this, thinking Emma was above the commercialism of our culture, which is ridiculous I know. How is the oxytocin going? I have thought about trying this. Hope you are all well:)

  2. Isn’t that funny? The things that make up “autism” and our responses, before we knew any better. I remember taking Em to the playground and feeling a certain amount of bravado at her energy! “That’s my girl!” I used to think. “Look at her go!” And when she didn’t want to get off the swings, I thought – well, she’s persistent, that’ll help her later in life!

    I have been waiting to write a post about the oxytocin, probably tomorrow’s post, but for now, we have seen nothing. I hate admitting that. But nothing of significance has changed. Nothing.

    I feel like all these things, all these treatments we keep trying, rarely do any of them do much of anything, but we keep trying anyway. How crazy is that? Or maybe it just means we’re like so many other parents with kids on the spectrum – we want our children to have the chance at living a full, engaged, independent life. We keep trying all these things hoping something will help her achieve that. But I’ve been doing this for more than seven years, and very few things we’ve tried have helped. Maybe I should stop looking, I don’t know. It feels like I’m giving up on her.

  3. I think what keeps me trying is that if I overlooked something, if I did not try something and that was the one thing that could have made a difference, well I could never live with that. So I figure, I will keep trying. I took a month off and now I am back on the search again. I am sorry. I know the pain that you feel surrounding the hopes and letdowns of all these treatments. And perhaps we are a little crazy, but great love and determination and hope through a situation that can sometimes be daunting require a little craziness I believe:) You are persistent, you are loving, and you are a great mom!

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