This morning was the kids’ first day at preschool. I had not intended to send Oz yet, but when I went to the informational meeting in December (here the school year runs from late January to November, with a long break in July), I kept thinking how much he would enjoy the focus on arts and music at this particular school. So I signed them both up.
Illyria is four years and eight months old, Oz is two years and seven months (almost). For her, I feel like the time is ripe – perhaps even a little over-ripe – the socialization will be really good for her. She is already reading at a first-grade level and exploring a lot of basic math concepts on her own, and has phenomenal gross motor skills (we call her our acrobat), but I have long been concerned about her language and social development. So I think this experience will push her in good ways.
Oz is an imp and a clown and a sweetheart. He’s deliberately and self-consciously funny. He’s affectionate, talkative, still baby-soft and cuddly. I think he is ready for this new leap – I’m pretty confident that he’s going to make friends and learn Spanish quickly.
When we were in the US, I took Illyria to a speech therapist – I was actually hoping to arrange for a full ASD screening but we didn’t have enough time to get all the proper referrals etc. in place, especially with everything else we had going on. The speech therapist said she did see some “social differences” in my daughter, but asked me what I really wanted from a diagnosis? If we were staying the US, a diagnosis would make Illyria eligible for certain kinds of educational services, but that would not necessarily be the case in another country, so did we really want to put that label on her? What would be gained by it?
I read an article online months ago, “My Quirky Kid,” that kind of summed up a lot of how I feel about Illyria’s, well, quirkiness, and made me feel better about foregoing pursuit of a diagnosis. As an anthropologist, I also see these systems of categorization as social constructs that are certainly empirically-based, but constructs nonetheless – ways of understanding the world, but not absolutes. They are culturally and historically contingent. They are inventions. So… what do I really want from a diagnosis? What would be gained?
I realized that what I really wanted was a) validation, that I’m not seeing things that aren’t there, or making mountains out of proverbial molehills (which I got from the speech therapist); b) ideas, techniques, things I can do to help her build positive social relationships that will help her experience the richness of human life to the fullest (I got some of this from the speech therapist, some from online reading); c) a “cure.” At some point I realized that what I wanted was a way to change her – to flip some kind of mental switch that would somehow make her this tremendously empathetic person, intuitively tuned in to other people’s silent signals and nonverbal cues, able to read social situations at a glance, etc. etc. Once I really understood that that’s just not possible – that the socially-oriented therapies that are done with people with ASD don’t actually do this – as far as I can understand it, it seems they teach behaviors, more or less), I had to let that go. And you know, that’s just not her, that’s just not who she is. She’s a fiercely intense little girl, extremely bright, athletic, strong. She loves animals. I can totally see her growing up to be a scientist, maybe a veterinarian.
It’s been really great over the past few months to see her relationship with her brother blossoming. To catch them sharing and taking turns unprompted. Having conversations. The other day she said “There’s the little white guy [one of her many nicknames for him]! I just love him so, so much!” and ran over and hugged and kissed him. It made my week.