I've always known that one day I would have to deal with the reality of Maya realizing she is different from other kids. Many people ask me if Maya is aware of her autism or that she is different than other kids. We've never talked about it with her because for a long time she just would not have understood that conversation or what it meant. Doing a lot of reading on the subject, and of course when it comes to anything to do with autism, there are different opinions on the topic, although by and large there is agreement that there is no point in having the discussion unless your child will understand what it means.
I often wonder what she thinks about it, if she thinks anything. I've not seen any outward signs that she is aware of her differences. Up until now the differences she sees, she processes as personality differences because they have to do with likes and dislikes. So, for instance when her friend from next door comes over , she is not interested at all in playing with Thomas the Train. Maya takes that as that she just doesn't like trains, rather than that Thomas is not interesting for a child of 9.
Other kids her own age, typical kids, are starting to notice Maya's differences though.
Earlier in the summer Maya's friend from next door had another friend over and they came over to play with Maya but Maya was in the tub. The friend of my neighbor asked me what grade Maya was in, when I said 3rd, she then asked me how old Maya was. This little girl, not missing a beat, asked why she was only in 3rd grade as a nine year old, because she herself was 9 and in the 6th grade. I answered the little fisherman's question by telling her that some kids learn faster and some kids learn slower.
Still, from Maya herself I've not seen any signs of awareness of her differences so far. I sometimes wonder how she processes her school, Maya's best friend at school has Down's syndrome and many of the other kids have much more intense needs than her own. She is aware of those differences but not that they really mean anything different .
Maya just came back from a birthday party at her cousins house. She was all smiles when she came in the door, gushing about what fun it was. Her cousin turned 3 and Maya adores smaller kids. I think part of the reason is because she understands them very well and she can mentor them, plus Maya is a total nurturer so it is just a lot of fun for her. A half an hour after she arrived home, she came and sat next to me, half looking down at the floor very quietly. I know Maya well enough by now that when I see that, I know she has something she wants to tell me. But, I also know not to push her as it takes her a long time to get things out and if I try and push her or put words into her mouth, just like that the moment can be gone. So, I said quietly that I was ready to listen. She spent about 3 minutes saying, mommy, do you know what happened at the party? Afraid to say anything to scare her off, I just shook my head quietly, I grabbed her hand and just held it in mine, running my thumb over the back of her hand, just the way my grandmother used to do to me.
Finally after a few minutes she said that her cousin's friends (who are her age) were not nice to her. I asked her what they said and after about 5 minutes of her repeating that they weren't nice to her, she told me that they laughed at her, because she likes to play with the little kids and they teased her and kept telling her she was a 3 year old. Leo later told me that she was with the older kids but didn't understand what was happening and some of the older kids made fun of her because she didn't understand what was going on.
As much as you prepare yourself for these moments, as much as you know they are coming, when faced with them in real life, a part of you chokes. You hurt for your child. Your hurt for your child keeps all the right words stuck in your throat.
Of course her dad handled the situation, he intervened and re-focused her attention on the smaller kids and everything was okay. He did exactly as he should have, he made it better for her.
But I am mindful that my child would never have relayed this story to me if it didn't have an impact on her. Maya who finds it tough to relay the events in her life would never have sat and tried so hard to tell me something if she wasn't looking for an explanation or an answer. At the same time I know that I have to talk to Maya in terms she can understand.
So, I said to her that sometimes kids say things which hurt our feelings, because every kid has their own ideas about how things should be just like how she likes to play with Thomas but other kids don't. I told her that she shouldn't let anyone make her feel sad because she likes to do things that other kids don't think are fun. I told her to follow what she likes to do and if this happens again to tell a kid this is what I want to do, if you want to do something else, that's your choice. I told her that everyone is different and that while some kids do make other kids feel bad, she has to remember that no matter what anyone says she is a good girl with a good heart and that while it might not feel good if someone else makes fun of you, what really matters is how she feels about herself.
With that she said okay mommy and ran off to her trains.