Good times with Soaps

We've been coasting with Sophie lately. Not coasting as in doing nothing, but as in everything just flows and feels so good.

So naturally I'm worried.

I read the blogs of others. Sophie is different than most other autistic kids out there. I have no idea what to expect, what prognosis to anticipate. I don't even know what the severity of her autism is. These are things that are all beyond my control and answers no one can give me. When she received her diagnosis last August it seemed she was quite severe. It happened at the absolute pit of her development, the lowest of the low. She was either asleep or slumped on my lap, or watching Thomas, impossible to engage or interact with. That is not Sophie now (thank goodness).

She is still autistic, no doubt. Delayed in terms of normal almost-three year old development, and still not talking. But she is with us, part of the family, not apart. Her world opened up so much. Whereas before if someone asked me what she likes I'd say "Thomas and food". She still likes these two things now but she also likes so many more, such as swimming and playing outside and going to playgroups and toddler gyms... She makes a mess in the living room now because she is actually playing with her toys and moving things around. She seems to respond more to instructions like "come here", "hold my hand", "let's walk". All useful things. And she is so easy going, compared to other autistic kids and many non-autistic kids too. That is the mystery of Sophie.

For example, it so happens that several new programs started this month. Our city-run rec programs run in 3-month increments and a new session just started. This time I signed up Sophie for a parent and toddler gym and a swim class (also parent and tot). These are not "special" programs, they are the same classes all kids in the city attend. Coincidentally we also started a new playgroup at a fabulous special needs nursery school (which we found she will be going to in September- yay! Another wait list down). This playgroup is every Friday for 10 weeks and I will attend that with her. So 3 new things all starting pretty much in one week - recipe for disaster, right? Nope. Sophie handled herself like a pro and had fun in all her new classes, I was probably more out of my element than her.

I think part of the reason she is so comfortable is because we do a lot with her everyday. We take her places with us, changing her scenery all the time, not allowing her to get stuck in a rut. Would we be taking this approach if she wasn't so easy going as a baby? Who knows. I'd like to think we would but I guess there's no knowing for sure. Another reason might be that most of these kiddie gyms, playgroups etc look pretty much the same. You got your toy cubbies, your bright rug, some small tables and chairs, a playhouse... The specifics change but the gist is the same. In the gym you got the mats, the slide, the trampoline, some balls and other common gross motor implements. They usually follow a similar routine, starting off with free play, then a circle time, then a snack time, then bye-bye time. I know of course that some kids notice every single detail that is new or different and it causes them great anxiety. Thankfully, while I believe Sophie also pays attention to all details she's not really bothered by change and adapts quite easily.

Lately I'm often trying to figure out what is "autistic behaviour" vs "toddler behaviour". It's tricky! Like for example sitting at a table to eat. She doesn't. I thought it was an autism thing or assumed rather. But did I assume correctly? My older kids sat at the table because I expected them to and reinforced that behaviour. With Sophie I pick my battles and didn't pick that one. Does that mean she can't learn to sit at the table to eat? I am sure that if I spent minimal effort to teach her she would without a problem. It also has to do with the fact that I'm busy and got lots of kids and if Sophie runs in and grabs a meatball and runs off again happy I don't feel like chasing her down, bringing her to the table kicking and screaming, making her sit and then hovering near because she's likely to fall off the chair. Or maybe because I am now a mom of many I loosened my perfectionist standards just a wee bit to preserve (some of) my sanity and figure that maybe the nursery school people can teach her to sit at the table to eat (oh my how embarrassingly negligent of me).

That brings me to the subject of discipline or rather "getting away with stuff". I did have more rules for my other kids, no doubt about it. Sophie really is just expected to show up, with bonus points for no hitting. She watches more tv than everyone else in the house combined (we're working on it), eats in the living room (see above) and pretty much has a sweet deal going on. I think it has to do with what I said at the very top about really having no idea as to her level of functioning. She seems to be climbing quite fast on her functioning ladder, so fast that she's leaving us behind with our low expectations. She's come such a long way since August. But she is still not very verbal (she has a couple words and word approximations which she uses more or less consistently) and I can only guess as to her receptive language level. Her autism makes her not overly concerned about showing off new skills or sharing her ideas so who knows what hidden talents she's keeping from us.

I know more than you think

Sophie is a super-cool little girl. I think I gotta raise the bar up a few notches. She can handle it.




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