friendship

How my daughter with Aspergers taught me to see beauty in trash.

When my daughter was little, I thought she was amazing. She had her own quirky ways of doing and saying things. She wasn’t quite like other kids. Sure, she was a bit behind in some areas, but she was so bright and chatty and such a little bookworm that I didn’t think she could have any real problems.

When she was diagnosed with Aspergers at the age of four, after her preschool teacher recommended testing, I was devastated. I cried all the way home from the psychologist’s office. I was afraid that years of struggle lay ahead of her. I feared she would spend her childhood on the outer, unable to make friends. I was worried that life would always be harder for her.

Suddenly, quirks became problems that needed fixing. Even her love of books was seen as a bit of an unhealthy obsession. I realised she wasn’t just going to catch up with other kids at some point and start acting like them.

Treatment began. Occupational therapy. Sessions with a psychologist. I remember buying her a book that was designed to teach social skills to Aspergers kids. This is how you have a conversation with someone else. You stand an arm’s length away from them. You make eye contact. You say, “Excuse me,” and so on.

I’m glad we had the funding for treatment. It helped.

My daughter knew exactly what she wanted to do at the beach. Image via iStock.

But I found myself feeling aware, all the time, of how different my daughter was from other kids. I felt super-conscious of her differences, because I wanted her to fit in. I wanted her life to be easier. At times I felt almost overwhelmed by how much she had to learn.

It's only gradually, recently, that I've started to see things a bit differently.

We went to the beach and she spent a lot of time carefully selecting shells to put in her bucket. To me, they didn't seem like particularly special shells, just ordinary brown and white ones. But she needed to show me every single one, to make sure I appreciated it.

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"Do you like this one, Mum? Do you see the stripes? Don't you think it's beautiful?"

"Yes, it is," I told her, "but you only need to show people one or two of something, and only if they're interested."

Then I started to look closely, and realised the shells were more beautiful than I'd thought. Is that really such a bad way to see the world, to be overawed by the beauty of every single shell?

British teenager Hollie talks about what it's like to have Aspergers. Post continues after video...

Recently, she was collecting a lot of what I'd call trash - scraps of wool, snippets of colourful paper, even broken jewellery discarded by other kids. Secretly I was worried that her trash collecting was a bit of a weird habit, and I wished she'd get rid of it all.

Then one day, I saw what she was doing with the bits and pieces. Inside a miniature chest of drawers, she'd sorted them into colours. I opened one drawer to find a red feather, a red button, red scraps of paper and red wool. The effect was gorgeous, like a piece of art.

A week or two ago, we went to play mini-golf, and halfway through the 18 holes, she stopped. I was disappointed, because I wanted her to be part of a family activity. But she'd found something else she'd wanted to do instead. She borrowed my iPhone, and started taking photos - not of us playing mini-golf, but of all the obstacles, from a bird's eye view. They were fantastic photos.

She sees things from a different perspective. She notices things I don't. She opens my eyes to beauty.

Maybe I can teach her how to have everyday conversations with people, and she can teach me to appreciate the beautiful things around me.

Maybe I've got to stop focusing so much on everything she needs to learn to become like other kids, and focus more on how amazing she is.

Has your child taught you to see the world in a different way?

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