Leo and I go back and forth on whether or not we should be pushing Maya more academically. It's tough because we so much want her to be everything she can be and the learning is progressing but at a snail's pace. I go through the guilts of whether we should not be doing something else, finding some creative method of learning that Maya will attach to which will send her academic abilities soaring.
Because I want Maya to be one of those kids, one of those kids where something happens which just unlocks her abilities and she goes through a storm surge of development or that we unlock some special ability that sets her apart and that will catapult her into an adult life with lots of opportunities.
Ever since our meeting at school last week, I've been feeling a little blue. Not because we really got any new information or bad news, but when you have a special needs kid, seeing their development plotted on a graph, in full technicolor mind you, can be a kick in the pants.
Now, I know that Maya has cognitive difficulties and that, probably more than her autism at this point causes her biggest barriers. I know that I cannot do multiplication tables and that will mean she can do them too. I know that while I certainly can encourage and to some extent influence, I cannot make her brain do what it might not be capable of. I know that her autism gives her additional challenges, just working harder at it won't do it. Overloading her with tons of tutors and therapies won't do it either.
It's tough to hear that the best possible outcome for your kid is that she might be able to work at the grocery store.
Don't get me wrong, if Maya grows up and that is where her abilities are, than that's okay with me. Working at a grocery store is good honest work and if that is what she can do, I will be right behind her, helping her to make the most of that.
Still, I don't think any parent goes into having a child wishing that working in a grocery store is the highest possible thing they can achieve.
No matter how long I am on this journey with autism, every time I read a report about Maya that talks about her limitations, it's just a little bit like a pinch, a momentary, temporary huge amount of pain that deepens the grooves of my worry lines. Pass the chocolate ice cream.
Then, I see Maya.
The little girl who tells me she loves me at least 5 times every single day.
The little girl who combats her nervousness by kissing my hand repeatedly.
The little girl that tucks in her trains at night.
The little girl who, when I was crying while watching a sad movie, without saying a single word, placed a stuffed animal on my lap and two on either side of me to comfort me.
This is what I have to remember every time I have to get one of those reports. That my girl is a sweet, kind girl and that trumps any report or any points on a graph. More than that, I realized that these things she does are a mirror of what Leo and I try to do for her every day.
Maya's particular brand of autism comes with a lot of anxiety. Because the world can be a scary place for her, she is often fearful of trying new things, we try to encourage her by building her up, by telling her that no matter what, she is loved, we reinforce it with affection and with sweet talk. We tell her we are proud of her and when her anxieties keep her frozen in place, we tell her it's okay, that we are proud of her for trying and that next time we will get there. We often hold her hand and we opt on the side of hugging her too much rather than too little, because Maya doesn't always understand things without reinforcement.
I was out to dinner the other evening with my sister in law who is here from Israel. Maya was at my inlaws the other day and my sister in law was on the phone trying to work out a stressful situation and was visibly stressed and irritated on the phone. My sister in law told me that Maya was right next to her the whole time she was on the phone, pushing a basket of stuffed animals to her. Maya wordlessly kept pushing the basket toward my sister in law. My sister in law kept giving her a 'just a minute sign' thinking that Maya wanted to play. And she told me that she felt badly because she just didn't have time to play with her. If Maya had just wanted to play, she would have asked and eventually given up. But the fact that she wasn't interrupting, wasn't saying a single thing, only pushing that basket forward tells me something else. I know my girl, she's a creature of habit. I've received the basket of stuffed animals many times. She was trying to comfort my sister in law, she saw she was stressed and she wanted to make everything okay for her.
Maybe that is her special ability?