I just have to share the very successful parent-teacher conference I just had! But first some back story…
Elizabeth was diagnosed with PDD-NOS at the age of 2 because she had 2 words, did not babble, had some repetitive behaviors, and had some serious sensory issues. After a LOT of therapy- speech, occupational, and Mommy- she “graduated” at the age of 5 and no longer qualified for services because she was at age level. However, *I* also knew that she was VERY bright- she followed multi-step directions, she could understand me and follow the logic when I explained the phenomena that were scaring her, and she was always watching… watching to figure out what to do.
This was truly the key to her learning- her watching. She saw other little girls carrying baby dolls, so she did too. She saw other little girls playing with their dolls, so she would repeat the dialogues she heard (not doing the actions, so it was just echolalia, but fascinating to watch, nonetheless). She would watch kids play with each other and she would run into the middle, screaming also. She sees that other kids watch Hannah Montana, and so she does too, even though she didn’t “get” the stories, and even though she really prefers Clifford.
And she did the same with language. Once she knew how to make the sounds, she started repeating entire conversations. We practiced scripts for all kinds of situations and analyzed what words would be good in what situation. We talked about how the phrase “I want” works to ask for something, but that “May I please have” is better when you are talking with grownups. She analyzes language and behavior and topics of conversation.
I hated so many things about autism, and I have a very distinct memory of crying one night when she was three, saying “I don’t want autism blocking her from the best HER that she can be!” Autism feels like a gauze curtain at times, that wafts open to reveal this amazing, funny, fantastic person, and then closes over her- blurring her responses, her language and her actions. When autism is in charge, she is anxious, obsessive, and confused. When she’s in charge, she’s unbelievable. When she’s rested, fed, healthy, and happy- she is more in charge of autism. Autism is this… this… this thing that is part of who she is, that she deals with.
At the parent-teacher conference yesterday, her math and language arts teachers both told me that she was the “ideal” student. Her language arts teacher, this year’s Teacher of the Year for her school, knows of our story and told me that she is just amazed at how Elizabeth’s autism is part of her strengths- how she can focus until she finishes, how she doesn’t really care what the other kids are doing, so she pays attention to the teacher. How she gets interested/obsessed with the computer tests they give children for practice and she does 60 of them. How her analysis skills lead to really high scores in math and language arts… language arts! She looks for key words, and underlines them. She takes apart stories and determines the elements. She writes using the five-paragraph method. She is finding the code for language and using it. And I am grateful- so amazingly grateful. Oh, and proud. Oh, and still expecting her to do her best. She is using the strengths that autism can bring to her and mastering the challenges.
My little girl- who had 2 words at age 2, 200 at age 3, is knocking the socks off of third grade material. She’ll do better than fine on the state competency test- and what an achievement that is for her!