At 4 years old, H still struggles when it comes to expressing herself. She can utter 2-3 words at the same time and can say a sentence when prompted. Her level of communication is currently limited to requests like “Mommy milk,” “water please,” “borrow iPad” and to express disagreement or frustration such as “I don’t like,” “oh no,” and “oh my goodness.” She also communicates her interests or feelings of excitement by saying the names of the objects she’s fixated to. Recently, her top 3 favorites are “grasshopper,” “mosquito” and a toss-up between “hungry jellyfish” and “hungry insect.” If you’re a parent to a child with fixations, you would totally get this.
Last Thursday, H had a breakthrough or what I’d love to call a “champagne moment.” After back-to-back sessions of speech and social skills therapies, her teacher told me that H had greeted one of her classmates while she was playing with a toy. When her classmate Mia, entered the room, she glanced over her direction and quickly said, “Hi, Mia!” while staring at her. You see, at home, whenever she’s busy playing or she’s fixated on a toy, it would take great effort to call her attention or to get her to look at us. Effort means having to call her name more than 20 times or approaching H at her level by kneeling on the floor. For H, looking at someone’s eyes is too overwhelming but nowadays, she can tolerate eye contact for a good 5 to 10 seconds. This is such a huge improvement already coming from not being able to establish any eye contact at all. Thanks to more than 2 years of therapy sessions!
So back to our champagne moment, while I was feeling all giddy with excitement and mighty proud of my daughter’s latest achievement, I couldn’t help feeling a little sad for not being able to witness it myself. Just moments before we left the therapy center, God blessed me with another wonderful surprise when H said goodbye to a classmate who happened to pass by. That day, I went home with a full heart knowing that our Good God have blessed me more than I deserve!
H is not really the verbal and friendly type of child especially in a social setting but give her something to memorize or a puzzle to solve, I’d guarantee you that she would remember and excel at solving them. This leads me to sharing with you an inspiring story of autism and animal advocate, Dr. Temple Grandin. Dr. Grandin is a prominent advocate for the autistic community and the subject of an award-winning HBO film portrayed by award-winning actress, Claire Danes.
According to bio., Grandin began to speak at the age of 4. Although her parents sought the best possible teachers, social interactions remained difficult in middle and high school, where other students teased Grandin regularly for her verbal tics. Despite these difficulties, Grandin achieved considerable academic success. She earned a degree in psychology from Franklin Pierce College in 1970, followed by a master’s degree in animal science from Arizona State University and a doctoral degree in animal science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She then worked as a consultant to companies with large animal slaughterhouse operations, advising them on ways of improving the quality of life of their cattle.
I distinctly remember watching Temple Grandin in tears. Though H is only 4, I can really relate with her mother’s journey to what she had been through with Temple. The film is based upon the books ‘Emergence,’ by Temple Grandin and Margaret Scariano and ‘Thinking in Pictures,’ by Temple Grandin. I highly recommend that you watch this movie if you haven’t seen it.
Aside from the film, another video of her that I really love is one from TED Talks where she made the case about why the world needs people on the autism spectrum: visual thinkers, pattern thinkers, verbal thinkers, and all kinds of smart geeky kids. If you are a parent of a child with autism spectrum disorder, you’ll surely love the last 4 minutes of her talk. This is also a great video to share with your family, relatives, friends or even your child’s educators who might need a little more understanding on how autistic brain works. It’s truly worth the share!
Incidentally, today is Dr. Temple Grandin’s birthday on the other side of the world. Her mother is my true inspiration of courage. As a mother of a child with a working diagnosis of autism, I want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart, for affirming that my daughter is different but not less and for showing the world that nothing is impossible, that labels are not needed, and that not even the sky’s the limit.
Happy Birthday, Temple Grandin!
Did you find anything here quite familiar? What are the challenges that you’re currently facing with your differently-abled child? I’d like to know in the comments. If you enjoyed this post, I’d be very grateful if you’d help it spread by emailing it to a friend, or sharing it on Twitter or Facebook. Thank you!