Saturday, August 28, 2010

How do you explain?

Long time readers might remember I have an 11 year old cousin, whom on this blog I call Jewel, who has special needs. She's on the autism spectrum basically, with a diagnosis of speech dyspraxia and some muscle tone / motor function problems thrown in as well.

GG and Jewel get on famously, GG being fascinated with older kids, especially one so into music and dancing as Jewel, and I sometimes think Jewel loves GG because she doesn't have any expectations to live up to with her, plus her behaviour is often a lot better around GG, almost like she is enjoying the fact there is someone who she can be better at at different things.

The girls see each other probably a few times a week, and GG often stays over at Jewels house, where they have a great time.

Jewel asks, probably every time I see her, if she can stay at my house one night too. To date, she has only stayed a handful of times with me. Not because I don't want to have her, but because at the last minute, her anxiety gets the better of her, and she doesn't want to go.

This is rough on GG. She gets excited at the thought of having Jewel stay at our place, and quite upset when it then doesn't come to pass. It's not Jewel's fault of course, and I don't want to drag her when she clearly is upset at the prospect, although I wonder if she would have a bit of a meltdown and then be fine, if we really pushed the issue. I suspect I'm falling into the trap of thinking of her like a "normal" toddler, who doesn't want to do something, which would be a mistake. I can't pretend to know how Jewel's mind works, even her own Mum doesn't. I once said to her when we were considering this approach, "You know her better than me". To which she replied, "Well no, I don't really know her at all". I was struck with sadness at that sentence, but didn't really know what to say in reply.

Yesterday, we had another go at having Jewel come stay. Last time, speaking as if it was simply a done deal, "okay it's time to go" throwing her stuff in the car and going seemed to work. She had about a day knowing about it, which gave her enough notice that it was going to happen, but not enough time to work up a lot of anxiety about it. Well, it must've been a fluke last time, because this time it didn't work at all.

Jewel became very upset at the thought of going, yet every time we said "Okay, you don't have to then", she would immediately say she now wanted to. I don't know if she was trying to please us, saying what she thought she wanted us to hear, but then getting scared and saying no, or whether (and this is what my gut tells me), part of her does want to come stay and play with her friend, but her anxiety makes her pull out at the last minute.

Through out all this, GG had been cajoling Jewel to come with her, "Yeah, c'moooooon" and getting visibly excited that Jewel might be coming to stay. These days I prep her that it's only a maybe, Jewel might not come, etc., etc., and she is pretty good, she no longer gets too upset if it doesn't work out.

As we were leaving from Jewel's yesterday, GG seemed fine, until a few minutes after we left, her bottom lip started wobbling and she asked in a plantive voice, "Why Jewel no come stay?"

"Well, you remember that sometimes Jewel gets a bit scared of not staying in her own place, and decides not to come. You can still see her on the weekend and have a play."

"Yeah, but why she get scared? I no get scared staying over."

And there's the thing, how do you explain something as multi-faceted and delicate as autism and mental health to someone who is only 3?

I gave it a try, anyway...

"Well, Jewel's brain doesn't work like yours and mine..."

"What a brain?"

"Umm, it's what you think with, in your head, and it's how you learn things. So Jewel doesn't think and learn quite like we do, and some things that don't worry us, upset her quite a bit, like staying over. So we have to be a bit patient with Jewel, because she can't help it."

"Something wrong with her brain?"

Of course the easy answer here would be "Yes", but I don't want GG thinking there is something 'wrong' with her friend and cousin, because really, I don't like that connotation, and she won't get the subleties involved.

Instead, I go with, "No, there's nothing 'wrong' with her, she's just different. It doesn't mean her brain is worse, or better, than ours, just different. Like your dollies, Raya and Prinny, one is cloth, and one is plastic, but you love them both, even though they are different, right?"

"Oh, yes!"

"Well, there you go, Jewel is just different."

"Whycome she different?"

"Well, that's just the way God made her."

"Oh, God like different dollies too!!"

Sometimes, I really feel very small and humble when speaking to my daughter....



  1. I love how little children see things - simply and honestly.

  2. Maybe its the wine, or the fact that I have a different kid, but this got me a little weepy.

    Your explanation was perfection. Just different is how I explain my son. Not damaged or impaired, just different.

  3. What a beautiful exchange and the old saying, "From the mouths of babes..." jumps immediately into my head!

  4. Beautifully said and beautifully handled.

    I tend to find kids understand more than we give them credit to understand but yes it needs to be explained to them in an open way so that they feed their understanding back to you.

    Thank you for sharing.

  5. Wow, L!! Once again I am in awe of your beautiful way with words. I am trying hard not to cry while I write this (without much success).


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