I’m exhausted. It’s not just that I’ve had three really long days in a row, although that doesn’t help. I think the biggest reason is that I sat in a meeting with my daughter’s 3rd grade teacher, her Occupational Therapist, her Speech Therapist, the Resource Specialist and the school Principal for almost 2 hours this afternoon. All these people gathered together for her Annual IEP Meeting.
For anyone who doesn’t know, an IEP is an Individualized Education Program. It’s a specialized education plan for students with special needs. My daughter has Asperger’s Syndrome, which is a form of high functioning Autism. She is highly intelligent when it comes to reading and spelling (scoring in the 96th and 99th percentiles of children her age, respectively) and math, but she struggles to understand social communication and has a hard time learning social skills (which is why she has speech therapy). She also has challenges with both her fine and gross motor skills as well as her balance (which is why she has occupational therapy).
So, in an IEP Meeting, as a parent of a child with special needs, you sit and listen to the professionals discuss all the areas in which your child is deficient and needs help to learn to do the things that other children do naturally. Now, I am really glad that the school has given us access to these wonderful people who work hard to help kids who are struggling. I know that they care about my daughter and want the best for her. They even took the time to tell us what a delightful and creative child she is and to discuss her strengths and the ways she excels academically. I am so thankful that they can see not just the unusual behaviors, but the causes of them and that they have ways to help her in the areas she struggles.
It is really hard for me, though, to hear a big long list of things my daughter doesn’t do as well as she should. It breaks my heart that she doesn’t have friends because she doesn’t know to play with them the way typical children play. She has her own way of playing and she doesn’t know how to adapt that to include other children. Sometimes when I see her on the playground with the other children, I can see that her body just doesn’t seem to work they way it should. She can’t keep up with the running, jumping and climbing that the others do. She tries for a while, but then they outpace her and so she wanders off to find something else to do.
Over this past year she has begun to notice that she is different than her peers. This is a good developmental milestone for her, because it means that she is becoming more aware of other people instead of being so entirely wrapped up in her own mind, as she was before. There is a part of me, though, that preferred it when she didn’t see the differences. She was happier. She didn’t talk about the things she can’t do, like climbing the monkey bars, jumping rope or playing sports. She didn’t tell me that it was all her fault that her class lost the baseball game. She didn’t feel sad because no one wanted to play with her. She was happy by herself.
My husband doesn’t like me to talk about this stuff. He gets frustrated that I focus so much on her weaknesses instead of her strengths. The problem is that I don’t know how to help her with her weaknesses without focusing on them. Of course, I encourage her in her areas talent. She writes great, creative stories. Her artwork is coming along nicely. She sings well and loves to perform. Those things come naturally to her. I need to try to help her in the other areas, though. I have to help her learn how to stay focused, understand non-verbal communication, not interrupt people, stay on topic in a conversation, sustain appropriate eye contact, etc. I have to find a way to teach her things that people normally learn without being taught.
I know that these are things that the therapists can help her with, but I’m her mom, and there is a part of me that believes that it’s my responsibility to teach this stuff to her. I mean, it’s my job to teach her self-care skills, manners, values, how to get along with others, etc, how then can I turn over the teaching of social communication and skills to other people? It kind of feels like a cop-out. But, the problem is, I don’t know how to help her. I’ve been trying to teach these things to her since I noticed that she wasn’t picking them up, but she hasn’t been able to learn them from me.
Sometimes people tell me that God gave her to me to raise because he knew that I would be the best person to be her mommy. I don’t feel like I am the best person who could be her mommy. I feel woefully inadequate to give her all the things that she needs. I don’t have the skills needed to help her learn how to make her body move the way she wants it to. I don’t know how to pinpoint the elements of social interactions that she is missing so that she can then be taught how to do them. I don’t know if I am explaining this well, but what I mean is that while I can see that there is something strange about the way she communicates (or doesn’t), it’s hard for me to put my finger on what the difference is, in order to correct it. So, I have to rely on other people to figure these things out and help her with them. People who have these skills. People who are not her mommy, because her mommy isn’t enough.
Now, logically, I know that I’m being too hard on myself and that God gives us these other people to help us when we don’t know how to help ourselves, because we can‘t know everything. But, as I have said before, my emotions are rarely logical. I just know that my daughter is in for a long road, it is not going to be easy, and I can’t change it for her. I can’t wave a magic wand and make the Asperger’s Syndrome go away. I can’t wish on a star and *poof* she knows how to make friends.
I can only pray that God keeps her in his hands and helps her grow into the woman he designed her to be. Oh, and that he makes me into mommy my daughter needs.