Sunday, September 8, 2013

No Clue

Some days you have no idea if you do anything right for your kids.

Today was one of those days.

My little thing has a couple little friends in the neighborhood.  They were friends as toddlers and pre-schoolers but as time goes on it gets harder for them to connect.  I notice they often get irritated with Maya because the second she hears or sees them outside, there she is, all desperate and not understanding that they don't always want to play with her.  She still has some good moments with them, particularly when there aren't other kids around, but more often than not I can see she is little more than a mosquito buzzing in their ears.

This doesn't make them bad kids, it just makes them kids.  But as time goes on, the distance between their development and Maya's grows ever wider and they have less and less in connection with her.

Maya is completely oblivious to it and for my part I don't manage the situation too closely because as I said Maya is not bothered by it.  She cannot read social cues very well and that is both a blessing and a curse.  A curse because if she can't read them, it will be hard for her to tailor her attitude and behavior in a way that other kids will want to be with her and a blessing because that inability to read those cues protects her from internalizing what happens each time one of these episodes occurs.

Today though, I am not so sure.

Maya and Leo went off today to do some shopping and they stopped in at my inlaws for a bit.  When she came home she saw the kids outside and immediately wanted to go out to join them.  Leo tried to talk her out of it, but he would have had more luck convincing Hitler not to invade the Soviet Union.

When my girl is determined, she is determined.

Off Maya went to join these kids who were playing behind our street,  which I was not too excited about.  While Maya knows our street well, I usually like her to play where I can keep some kind of watchful eye on her, particularly when there are other kids involved.  Maya struggles a lot socially with kids her age and when I can see where she is I can monitor voice levels and body language.

But today, she saw the kids outside, around the bend and wanted to go.  She promised me that she knew the way and would come back immediately if the kids weren't nice to her.

After conferring with Leo on the situation, we agreed to let it happen because the truth of the matter is that while Leo and I want to protect her from everything, we can't.  We agreed that if she wasn't back in ten minutes one of us would go and check just to make sure she wasn't "lost."

One of us was me.

When I walked over there, I immediately saw one of the kids hitting Maya, not one of the kids who lived in our neighborhood but one of their friends.  Maya ran past the kid and he hit her.  She came back and he did it again.  When she ran past a third time she poked the kid in the back, not hard, not more than a tap on the shoulder and he hit her a third time.

It took everything I had in me not to go over there and rip that kid's head off.

I didn't, I just stood there and Maya saw me and ran over to me.  I asked her what was going on and she said they were playing.  There was not the slightest bit of bother, sadness or anger on her face or in her eyes.  I asked her why that kid hit her and if she hit him first.  She insisted that they were playing and that it was okay.

At that moment, the other kids noticed me and I think our neighbor explained that I was Maya's mom, he looked at me for a minute and Maya ran back.  I stood behind the bushes for a second just to hear the voices and then peered around the corner.  The kids had moved to the end of the street and their voices were normal, so I decided to take off for home.

By the time I walked the two minutes home the kids were grouped in front of our house.  Maya ran up to me and hugged me, I asked her if everything was okay, she said yes.  I said hello to the kids and they quietly greeted me and quickly looked away and walked into the house.

Within two minutes voices were raised  and I saw stones being thrown and the kids saying '5 against 1'.   I saw Maya throwing a stone too.  I went outside and asked the kids what was happening.  One of them immediately offered that Maya was throwing stones.  Maya then said they were throwing stones at her too.

I asked Maya if she threw a stone at the kids first, she said no.  Then another one of the kids offered that they were trying to play and didn't want to play with Maya but she wouldn't leave them alone.  Then they all chimed in singing this like the chorus in a Broadway musical.  I cut them off and told them I had heard enough and I would solve the problem for them.

I turned to look at Maya, head tilted down, eyes toward the ground.  I love you mommy she said.  I told her that I loved her too.  and I walked over and put my arm around her and spoke quietly to her, I asked her if she heard what those kids just said, that they didn't want to play with her.  She said she did, but that all she wanted to do was play with them.

I had to blink back tears.

I then said to her that it's not fun to be around people that don't want you around.  I told her that if people don't want me around, then it's not fun for me and better to do something else.  I asked her if she  wanted to come in the house and we could play something together.

She shook her head.  Shit.  

I then suggested that I could get some of her sidewalk chalk and we could draw pictures outside together.  Miracle-of-miracles she chirped, yessssssss.  

So amidst rainbows, flowers and mice with purple ears, I managed to redirect her and those kids went on about their business.  Within 5 minutes the other girl in the group was being picked on and pushed out.  She went inside to tell her mother and in a few minutes the jig was up, the visitor kids mother came out and they quickly made their exit.

I have no idea whether I handled this well or not.  Maybe some moms would have gone and spoken to these kids mothers and tried to make it into a compassion-for-special-needs-kids-teaching-moment out of it, but that didn't feel right to me.  Plus, these sorts of talks in my experience don't help very much.  These parents then overcompensate completely and their kids end up talking real slow and treating Maya as if she were made of glass.

Maybe some moms of autistic children would have never let their daughter go and play on their own, out of their sight, without adult supervision.  It's hard to know in a given moment what the right thing is.  There are tons of books, but books are books, my daughter is a living, breathing flesh-and-blood girl.  I felt the best thing I could do in that moment was be there for my child, back her up and show my daughter that there is an easy way out of conflict.  Yes, I could have opted to not let the situation happen, but that's not life.  As much as I want to, I cannot protect Maya from rejection.  It's a part of life.

The best thing I think I can do as her mom is teach her how to deal with it, in a way that doesn't eat out her insides.

After the kids all left and Maya and I were outside drawing, I asked her if she was feeling sad or angry about what happened with those kids.  Maya repeated that all she wanted to do was play with them.  I told her that I knew that, but then asked her if I could tell her a secret.  Yes, she said, all perked up, excited to be hearing something that is especially for her, it's no fun to be around people unless they are nice to you.  

Uh-huh, she said and then turned to keep working on another mouse.

About twenty minutes later when we decided to come in, Maya said,  they were just being kids, that's all.  

So, I have no idea whether I handled the situation well or badly, but my daughter seems to have done just fine.


  1. Tough one, and for the record, I think you handled it the best way possible. You can't shelter her from life all the time, and like I always say, even the bad stuff is a learning experience. She has to go through this to learn, and you have to go through it because you love her and want her to grow.

  2. I just found your blog and it has consumed me for the best part of an hour. You are one incredible mother and I salute you. My kids aren't autistic and I bubble-wrap them way too much because I'm afraid of the world treating them badly. You show such courage, strength and respect for your daughter in letting her go out there, experience the world (warts and all). The way you've handed her tools to manage and deal with it all... you blow my mind and have earned my utmost respect.