Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Camille, Flying

When Camille asked to take trapeze, I did not immediately say yes. Instead I asked her to watch one of Piper's classes, and to think on it. Camille has never been one to bust out into new activities. She's more cautious, and it's harder for her to add new things to her routine. My initial reaction needed to be curbed. Trapeze seemed like a dream to me; something I would have embraced as a child. But too often my own desires clash greatly with Camille's, and for awhile it meant butting heads. Over time I adjusted my expectations, learned to respect the wiring of her brain.Thus I overrode my impulse to gleefully sign her up and urged observation.

Camille persisted in wanting to do trapeze even after the stipulations. We signed her up. Initially she did okay with getting up early . As time went on it was harder to get her moving. But she only refused to go twice in a five month period. I watched her in the class with a feeling of both pride and trepidation. My own childhood filled with ostracization and bullying often colors my reactions to my children's social interactions

Perhaps it's the nature of a class like trapeze that Camille was not mocked by the other kids. Everyone loved that Camille brought a stuffed Pokemon to each class to watch over their practice. There was always at least one kid who admired Camille's Minecraft and Dr. Who tee shirts. No one minded that Camille dressed like a boy. After a fresh haircut, there were lots of compliments on her short funky style.

Of course Camille's behaviors often go beyond the funky and into places that are easily misinterpreted. She would sometimes refuse to do certain exercises or moves. When it was due to overstimulation, she would just go sit and cover her ears with her head down in her lap. Other times it was because the bar hurt her hands. Her teachers were kind and considerate of her needs. They learned to just let her be when she was over stimulated. They encouraged her gently when she was clearly stumped by a move and just stood by her bar. We worked together to come up with a solution to the spray problem (powder is a better choice for Camille).

The biggest test for Camille came when it was time to perform. She was very scared, and I had assured her that she  did not have to do the performance. She wavered for a time but finally committed to performing. I admit I was scared for her. Scared she would freeze in the middle. Scared she would be whispered about. I worried that it was too much pressure and that she would be pushed into a place hard for her to escape. The memories of where we had been was so fresh. The times I had pushed her into places that did not feel safe to her, and the struggles that ensued. We had come so far in our relationship. But it was her choice, and the thing about trust is that you respect other people’s choices.

The day of the performance started rough. She slept late but was still tired when we roused her to shower and dress. She spent a bit of extra of time with her rituals, a sure sign of nerves. But she didn't fight us, and she didn't change her mind. As we got closer to the studio instead of growing more afraid, she began to bounce with excitement. And when she came out to perform? She shone. She bounded on the mats, her head high.  For what seemed like the briefest of times she took flight with that bar. Watching her as she twisted her body through move after move, graceful, strong, and so sure of herself brought tears to my eyes. She twirled, spun, and  flowed through the air. She had pushed herself into a place that  was new and not comfortable at first and made it her own. The air was hers as were the bar and the rope.

When the routine was done, she spun in a circle on her bar, and landed with cat feet on the mat, her arms up in triumph. She bowed with a sense of drama rarely seen in Camille. She was a star and the huge smile on her face as she turned to me let me know she knew it.  

For me it was so much more than just a successful show. It was the culmination of what had been for me a rather scary experiment. You see we pulled Camille from public after school after her disastrous K year. She was mocked and bullied by the adults I had trusted to teach her. She tried so hard to be "good" for them that when she got into our van at the end of the day she would start to beat on her sister. I would pull over and hold her as she raged and screamed taking the blows on my own body.  And then one day we were in the teary aftermath of yet another battle. Camille and I were both holding each other, sobbing while the other children looked on, eyes wide. And I knew there had to be a better way.

At the time, I didn't know there was a whole different way to think about Autism/Asperger's. I only knew that I could not do the same thing to my daughter that the adults at her school did. I had to find a new way to approach her. For the next three years, Camille and I started on a new journey where Camille's neurology was respected. Instead of working to change Camille, I worked on both of us learning to trust her choices and ways of being in the world. Over time, Camille changed. She was confident in herself and most importantly confident in her difference. At the end of this performance, I saw a child who had stepped out into the unknown, confident because she trusted us, and she trusted herself.

In the interest of other parents avoiding the painful path I had to take, I offer these links. Please if you have a child on the spectrum go read these pages. Our children do not have a disease. They are not an epidemic. They deserve acceptance not awareness: