My youngest and I are doing math together Monday-through-Thursday. We need to stay consistent. We have to stay dedicated and on top of it because we both have brains that struggle with processing fractions. Yesterday, I contemplated ripping the rest of the fraction exercises out of her workbook. The math program is on the computer, though, and the workbook is merely a tool… so not helpful. We soldier on everyday like weary Russian troops trudging through Austria and Germany trying to defeat Napoleon (I'm (trying for the third time) reading War and Peace)... They are tired, hungry, poorly equipped, and want a shot of vodka (I don't care for vodka, actually, but you get the point). I am all those things by May of our school year… the same school year we are extending through the summer. Math, however, makes us all crazy. Especially fractions. We have calculators for this, people. My middle doesn't like math, either, and we’ve done three years of seventh grade math with her-- all because of fractions. We'll get through it. Consistency.
But, I digress.
Katie... Katie is also known as my Special K, my Katie-cat and my Katiebug. She is that child. She broke her collarbone at age 6, she has scaled the outside of our house up to her second story bedroom window, and has no fear of tall trees, approaching crocodiles, or possibly rabid opossums. I'm serious. She is the one that had me on the phone with poison control every week for the span of her second year of life. She figured out blister packs, “push down and turn”, and “squeeze and turn” tops in the space of a month. She mastered climbing onto countertops to get to the top shelf where I moved said medicines in the space of a week. She sampled dish detergent and was overjoyed that she could blow bubbles out of her mouth. The terrible twos had a whole. new. meaning. I was either frantic or crying most days. I wouldn't trade her for the world and I'm fiercely in love with her. I'm overprotective, too, because things that should scare her don't.
She is deathly afraid of things that shouldn't scare her, though. Changing weather patterns freak her out. Loud noises cause panic. Bees affect her in a visceral way (I can't complain about this, specifically, though, because I, too, have an unrealistic fear of bees). She frets when my husband and I daydream about moving to a less populated area, and really truly gets upset about any kind of change. She has always been my most sensitive child. She is actually more challenging to parent than Tommy is, even given all his issues. Everything for her is too… too loud, too bright, too quiet, too dark, too spicy, too hot, too cold… The list goes on and on.
It's interesting to me that very early on I had an idea that Tommy’s development was atypical. With Katie, I would lament, “she screams at me all day long.” In hindsight, I see a million little reasons that could have tipped me off about autism sooner, but it took us twelve and a half years to pursue diagnostic testing, and we pursued testing because trying to educate her was becoming very difficult. It was becoming very emotional- for all of us.
Why did we wait so long? It might have been because she was our baby, “the caboose”, we called her. Birth order can affect personality. Parenting your first is different than parenting your third. I was always checking out parenting books from the library (I read them, too).
She also is a she… autism in girls looks different than autism in boys. It is hard to articulate the specifics, but hormones and drama are just more expected among girls, so a lot of behavior just gets chalked up to “girl stuff”.
Also, she has had anxiety and sensory integration “issues” her whole life, but those were diagnosed early on, so autism was never something we really considered (early on). I guess we (my husband and I) might have been in denial, too. Although, I think for me, it was in the back of my head that she was spectrum-y for a while (for several years). A lot of Katie’s quirks, and reactions to things like noises and weather patterns started to look a lot like things I remembered Tommy doing. A lot of close friends and family told me not to worry so much, and to not go looking for trouble where there is none, and not to try to put a label on everyone… and for several years I heeded that advice. And then the tween years happened. That “girl stuff” exploded into “GIRL STUFF”. As she descended the stairs each morning the “Imperial March” from Star Wars would play in my head. We needed some definitive help.
So, let me say this: It's not about the label, and it's not trouble, and I did worry. Knowledge is power. Sharing knowledge is even more power. I like understanding that some behaviors aren't bad behaviors, they are coping behaviors. I want to help her navigate those behaviors with grace and dignity. I want not just her, but my whole family to thrive- just not survive. We aren't perfect by any stretch of the word, but being able to name emotions and behavior has helped us (all) immensely-- to communicate and enforce consequences when needed, and to recognize stimulation overload and anxiety so we can change activities if needed.
We’re all still learning and growing, but progress is happening. Family raising is a dynamic process! The house is a little more peaceful. We still have some meltdowns here and there, but everyone in my house (including me) can be a bit dramatic. School is definitely better. History and reading are back on track, for the most part. Fractions and factoring are still miserable, but I didn't really expect that to change too much. But… We. Need. To. Stay. Consistent. Consistency is key (with not only math, but parenting, as well)!
Can I just say this? The best thing about my family are the people in it, and I want us all to live and love well. These kids are a gift, my husband is a gift, and it's a great privilege to be able to share a little piece of them with you.