Whatever her challenges are and whatever hardships we face, Maya has a wonderfully alive and fascinating imagination. And while I don´t know if her autism has anything to do with the workings of her imagination, I do think in some way autism keeps her imagination going.
Many of the typical 8 year old kids I see seem way more grounded in reality than our Maya. They are often busy correcting Maya when she says something which is way off base.
When I was Maya´s age, I understood much more than she did. I already knew that everything wasn´t possible. And although at 8 I did not have any real depth to my understanding and certainly did not see the complexities of life, I already knew that people didn´t live beyond the rainbow, I already knew that bugs were disgusting creatures. I knew that I had to look and do like the other kids or risk being ridiculed.
I already had blinders on. I was already conforming.
Maya´s imagination still soars without limits. The practical realities of life have not yet set up camp in Maya´s brain. She is still a completely open book, a blank canvas. Maya has no blinders. She is oblivious to a lot of things, but can´t is still not part of her psyche yet.
Although her lack of understanding causes many challenges each day and certainly fills me with worry, there is this tiny part of me that can put the worries aside and adore this part of Maya.
This by-product of autism.
After breakfast while I was
watching TV reading she came running up the stairs with a little Ziploc bag with water in it with a huge smile on her face. She walked up to me and thrust the bag in front of me and asked me if I knew what it was. I looked inside and saw an orange spec of something at the bottom which I saw were little orange beads. So, I answered, you have a bag with water and beads inside. And she said, no mommy, it is not beads. It is goldfish. I have to take care of them until they get home and can go into their fishbowl. She deposited the bag on the bed and went to her room. When I called after her and asked her what about her fish, she said that they liked me better than her so I needed to take care of them. Besides, she said, I am busy now and don´t have time to take care of goldfish.
In all Maya´s school reports, they go on chapter and verse about Maya´s abilities to pretend, about how she concocts elaborate scenarios in her mind and sometimes she gets irritated when someone tries to add a detail which Maya doesn´t like.
And sometimes even, Maya´s imagination solves her developmental problems.
Last winter Maya didn´t like wearing gloves. She couldn´t get the hang of how to put them on and pinkies and index fingers got all smashed in one finger hole. It literally would take me 5 minutes to get her hand in the right position so that I could get one finger in each finger of her glove. Mornings are tough for us anyway and this was easily adding an extra ten minutes (and lots of groans and eye rolling from our bus driver). I bought mittens, but Maya, forever losing track of her stuff was always without one mitten.
One cold morning when the bus was waiting and we hopelessly only had one mitten, I was standing at the stairs calling Maya to come downstairs, considering whether to go bribe or threat to get her out the door.
She came downstairs with a pair of socks on her hands.
What are those for I asked her, exasperated. To keep my hands warm, and look, my fingers don´t get stuck she retorted, obviously annoyed with me for not getting it earlier.
In the name of expediency and choosing my battles I let it go and hurried her out the door to the bus.
That afternoon I got a call from the school about the socks. I thought for sure this was going to be a problem, because the Dutch are sticklers for their rules and for there being only one way of doing things.
I was ready, already translating in my head, getting ready for the onslaught.
When Maya entered school that morning with the socks on her hands, they asked her why she was wearing socks on her hands, thinking perhaps that Maya was playing puppet. They asked her if she brought puppets to school and Maya sighed and said no. She told them that she doesn´t like gloves and the socks are easy to put on and keep her hands warm. She took the socks off and deposited them in the glove box outside of the classroom just like all the other kids did with her gloves and mittens and went about her business. Her teacher, not a stranger to Maya´s antics, kind of shrugged it off and figured don´t go there. She pretty much figured out that it was a Maya thing and that this would be the end of it.
Just before recess when the kids her teacher got an extra pair of gloves for Maya and offered to help her put them on. Maya protested wanting to wear her socks. At first her teacher tried to use logic with her, telling her with socks on her hands she won´t be able to pick up anything outside, like a small ball or toy. She said that she can pick anything up with socks just like she does with mittens.
You won´t be able to pick up a Lego. the teacher said. Maya said that Lego´s were an inside toy and she didn´t need to pick up Legos on the playground.
Her teacher then tried to use peer pressure by telling her all the other kids were wearing gloves. That´s really nice for the other kids, I like my socks, they have purple polka dots.
Then they told her that socks were for her feet. Maya thought for a minute and said that she would walk on her hands.
Take your base baby.
Yeah, I know it is 4 balls before you take your damn base. It´s just a blog post.
The teacher laughed and gave in, realizing it is futile to argue with Maya´s imagination. Seeing the socks on her hands, one of the other kids in class started pulling off his shoes and tried getting his socks off to be on his hands, just like Maya.
Maya´s little mutiny.
Now I won´t say that Maya´s development doesn´t concern me, it does. Yes, I worry for her future. I see every day that although she takes strides forward, it doesn´t seem to be enough, she is not catching up to other kids.
But for right now I am very happy that I have a kid who still thinks anything is possible, who is willing to be different. Hopefully as she grows she will begin to understand more about the world around her, she will learn and I hope it will be enough.
I still hope she never ever loses that part of her that will wear socks on her hands, that will be a square peg in a round hole, and do it proudly.
The world needs more people like that.