Friday, December 30, 2011
On any given day, even on this holiday "break," my child with Autism is THE busiest person I know. Her day usually begins with either school or her "second" school that she goes to on school breaks and Saturdays. Then she has 10 hours of ABA therapy, and 8 times a week she has OT, PT and Speech Therapy. Throw in some horseback therapy, some special outings and that girl is SCHEDULED.
So on a day (usually Sunday) of no therapy, Avery wanders the house, (she has no interest in toys or "play," is 100% non verbal and little to no interaction skills) watches TV, plays on her ipad (which consists of more TV or usually just the intro songs to favorite cartoons), swings on her indoor swing, wanders some more knocking lots of things off tables and counters, and climbs on furniture. We have several baby gates, because stairs are death traps to her and we have two sets. We feed her, change her diapers, start her new beloved shows.... and make a day of it. We ALWAYS try to take her out somewhere, be it to Target or the mall, but given her inability to stay with us or be aware of her body in space, we have to have a death grip on her hand or have her in the cart or a special stroller that she can barely squeeze into. She loves being out though, so no matter how hard or stressful it is on us to bring all three monkeys out and about, every week we do it again and again... because she loves it, and needs the activity, and so we don't all go bonkers redirecting her ten zillion times at home so she stays safe or doesn't swing into the baby for the umpteenth time, kicking her to the ground... purely on accident since she doesn't really seem aware that the baby is around most of the time.
Staying busy is a coping mechanism I suppose. The more "active" we are pursuing help for our beloved first born, the less guilt we feel about all the things she can't participate in or can't do. So on a holiday like Christmas where NOTHING is open and our hardships are always exacerbated by how we "think things should be" I find myself wishing time away and looking forward to getting back to the regular routine where the busyness clouds the sadness, and the activity silences the heartache.
I don't want to spend my life or even one more minute wondering what things could be like for us as a family if Avery's brain hadn't stopped developing on a normal trajectory and taken a hard left turn off of normal. But here I am, taking a moment to catch my breath when I see her 3 year old sister enjoying Christmas and all the festivities, and her "baby" sister pointing, talking, and interacting with us in a fully appropriate, silly and endearing manner. It still stings. I wish it didn't, but it does.
So often I think back to the "stuff" I worried about before Autism and Mastocytosis changed our lives forever. Before I worried about whether my child would suffer tremendously or even die young from her disease or if she would ever utter a word or learn to use a toilet. Those worries seem so silly now. So distant. And I fear that I'm forever hardened to be a little insensitive to others' worries and fears that are so simple by comparison. Thankfully, I am able to remember that life before... it wasn't so long ago after all... so on some level I can still kind of relate.
I lay awake most nights and try to let go of the anxiety and the fear, and try very hard to focus on our many beautiful blessings. Try to spin a positive out of whatever has me worried, and count the moments of the day that make it all worthwhile. Today, as my littlest girls were napping and while Avery and I had a few minutes for me to feed her lunch before therapy started, we had one of those very special moments.
In general, I will admit that feeding Avery is NOT my favorite thing to do. Sad, really, as when she was a baby I would nurse her for hours on end, soaking up her infant features and blissfully unaware of any imperfections. But now, chewing is difficult for her, and she cannot yet "bite off" anything and often spits her food out, or drops it on the floor as she doesn't attend to the action of moving food from the table to her mouth. Food usually ends up everywhere, and admittedly, I become frustrated and annoyed. Pretty much every single time. Thank god our therapists and respite care worker take over this task a lot... it really is better for everyone.
But back to today. TODAY, Avery was the only one eating so she and I had some one on one time with no TV on, no iPad playing music, and no other family members or therapists. TODAY she looked, and I mean REALLY LOOKED and SMILED at ME several times! She GIGGLED as I acted like I was going to eat her chicken, and she IMITATED her arms up in the air as I threw mine up in the air. I tickled her several times, and she INITIATED wanting more as she grabbed for my hands laughing and smiling. TODAY, I am reminded of a precious, unconditional, simple and 100% pure kind of love.
The day in and day out is crazy. It's so easy to get lost within the chaos, and forget that my child is perfect, just the way she is. Just because she is "labor intensive" doesn't make her any less of a person or less needy of simple, silly, love and affection. Don't get me wrong. We "love on" Avery all of the time. Sometimes she smiles. Occasionally she glances at us, but RARELY does she really look, really GAZE into our eyes and visually connect with us. It's such a simple blessing. Looking. Just looking. But to me, it MADE my WEEK. So there it is. An entire, wordy, lengthy blog about a look. About a moment I shared with my daughter today. But the biggest lesson of all is that SHE makes me better. She makes me appreciate the smallest feats. And as limited as she is in seemingly every way, and as much effort that we put in to teaching her the most simple tasks and functions... isn't it funny how much she is teaching me. Every day. How incredibly lucky for me. The "hard" just makes it all the more beautiful.