Yesterday, Julia rode the school bus home after a splendid day at a field trip — civil war reenactment camp. I chaperoned and got to spend the day with kids and teachers and parents. All rather blissful even including the canon firings which are extremely tough on Julia, but she watched the “soldiers” load the cannon with arms around me, one ear pressed to my chest and my hands firmly over her other ear. The sound was still painful for her but she recovered . . . well, like a resilient kid, which is a description that could be called a miracle.
Then, on the school bus home there was more bullying. It was not an isolated event. Julia’s has gotten good at ignoring it and her allies — especially two boys from her class — are good at standing up for her; however, the behavior seems to be escalating. The perpetrators laughed at Julia, called her names (stupid, I think) and said that she is never going to graduate. (An aside here — Some of the remembered damage done to Julia in China was being called ugly and stupid which she was told were the reasons that she was not sent to school with her bunk mate.)
At the bus stop, Julia got off with the two boys who are classmates. The boys pointed the perpetrators out to me. The kids they pointed out laughed and gave us all the finger. I don’t know these bad kids (yes, to me at this instant these are evil, bad kids with NO redeeming qualities) although they do not seem to fear that I might report them. When my sitter reported this same thing to me last Friday, I didn’t want to pursue it. It is so close to the end of school and Julia doesn’t ride the bus home much. I was going to let it slide. Perhaps it would get better, perhaps it would go away if we all just ignored it, but perhaps it is time to ask for some consequences.
Julia tells me that it isn’t so bad in the morning but in the afternoon (and she is only taking the bus home once or twice a week) they are really mean. Julia would rather have me drive her to and from school. Listening to one of Julia’s friends talk about the bad kids, I could see that he felt helpless to do anything to help Julia.
I struggle to be compassionate. I want to punch out those kids!
And then today, I spent the day at the first of a two-day seminar given by members of PACE Place (http://www.paceplace.org). They talked about what I’ve been talking about with out attachment therapist for years. The relationship between attachment and autism. Of course, I see the relationship because Julia was so deprived of relationship in China and to work on her neurological differences labeled as autism, we all had to address her lack of attachment, but these people talked about the inability to form age appropriate, healthy attachments in ALL people on the spectrum. It is very exciting. I think I sat nodding my head the entire day!
This team was also able to use workshop games with the group of 60 IDS employees (therapist, psychologists and other helping professionals) and parents as effectively as some of the best theater workshops I’ve been part of. The day was one ah-ha moment after another — lots of learning physically through metaphor and reflection. I was only going to go to one day because I didn’t want to leave Julia with a sitter for two days, but what I am learning is worth the missed weekend for both of us and thank goodness, her sitter is free tomorrow.
Finally, close to the end of the day, I had my huge ah-ha moment. I can’t connect the dots as to how I got there, but something was said that set off a chain of thoughts and I realized that Julia is learning to play her cello at the same rate as her peers (more or less) because somehow she started at the beginning of learning music at the same time as her peers. This is the first time that she is starting from zero with the kids around her. (Oy, I’m not being articulate here. Damn.) All the other things we taught her — English, numbers, reading, writing, APPROPRIATE BEHAVIOR — her peers were getting lessons in all those things years and years before her. No one gave her any of the basics — no one counted her toes, cheered her first steps, or ran to her crib when she cried. No one read books to her, looked at her when they gave her a bottle or taught her the tools of sharing. Or gave her enough to eat, for that matter. Julia has been playing a game of catch up since I met her when she was five and a half.
But most of the kids in her class were not handed a violin or cello any sooner than she was. She still needs to run to catch up with attention and focus even learning music, and she has not paid attention to music like most of her peers, but somehow she is not the same five and a half years behind in music that she was with almost everything else except for her art.
And so, what does this mean? I am having trouble bringing the lines together in my head. I don’t mean to overstate what I see. She and I, and her aide in strings class and her cello teacher, work very, very hard to make cello possible. But the fact remains that she is learning more like her typically developing peers than ever before.
I have struggled with the question of Julia’s ‘prognosis.’ Julia has not been considered high functioning but she is not just lower functioning. No one has felt comfortable labeling her because her development has been so interestingly inconsistent and her gains so surprising. I am not the only one who has noticed the spark in her soul. I still don’t know how to make up for, catch her up for those years with me that she missed, but through her cello we are experiencing her starting from a beginning and learning and staying abreast of the running herd.