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.
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.