Three weeks ago, K started back at her adaptive dance program. It's a great class offered by Boston Ballet, for kids with autism (they also have a fantastic program for children with Down Syndrome.) K has attempted typical dance classes in the past, but while she loves to dance, the classes were always too much for her. A few hardcore teachers who expected 4 year olds to behave like adult professionals didn't help (unfortunately, the two studios we tried had very little patience/understanding for children with special needs.)
I am forever Googling "(insert activity here) for kids with autism" (dance, gymnastics, sports), just to see what is available, and if there is anything that would interest K. When I first came across the Boston Ballet class, I was hesitant. It's at 9am on Saturday mornings, and an hour away (we like our sleep around here), but I decided to give it a chance. K had expressed interest in trying dance again, and I had been unsuccessful finding something closer to home.
To be honest, we had a rough start. Anything new is just difficult for K, and the first couple classes didn't go as smoothly as I hoped. It was a learning curve for us...what she should wear, how to prevent her from overheating and melting down, how to add breaks if she needed them. K might be seemingly "higher functioning" than a lot of the kids, but she is probably the most easily upset. It was difficult to watch every other child enjoy the class, while my daughter struggled.
And, yes, I sweated it at first. Why, even in a class designed for kids with autism, did she still have trouble? It reminded me of an autism walk we did a few years back, when my child pretty much melted down from start to finish (the shirt was too itchy, she was too hot, it was too loud), and I felt like we were the only ones, out of thousands of people, with a child having a hard time. K so badly wanted to be part of a dance class, but here we were at a class designed for kids like her, and it was still hard. And she seemed to be the only kid for which it was hard. Again.
Of course, it was nice to be in a class where people were more understanding, and the other parents didn't give me the evil eye. I really wished K could just be as happy as everyone else, though. I just wanted something to finally work out for her, because up until then, nothing else had.
I did think about quitting. I left it up to K, and she kept deciding to go back every week. I bought prizes for her to earn if she made it all the way through class. We went shopping for clothing she'd be more comfortable wearing. We talked about expected and unexpected behaviors. The whole nine. I did everything in my power to get her through that class, because she really wanted to go.
There were a lot of times she did really well. When she enjoyed the whole class, and didn't let her anxiety take over. But there were other classes that were still difficult, and I just sat there praying to the universe that she didn't have a giant meltdown (I should add this was also during the time she was having an awful time at school, so that didn't help. She was just very unsettled in general, and looking back, I realize how big of a part that played into her general attitude at the time.) I wanted her to be successful, and find joy doing something she loved.
She made it through both the fall and spring sessions, and had a fabulous time at the end of year show. However, I still wasn't sure if another year was in the cards for us. We talked about it over the summer, and K went back and forth about whether she wanted to continue. Ultimately, though, she decided to go back, and as soon as she made her decision, I decided I needed an attitude adjustment of my own.
You see, the point of the class is for K to have fun. I didn't want to make the class work. I realized having her earn prizes to make it through the class was wrong. If she couldn't make it, who cares? Why make her feel bad if she didn't earn a prize? That isn't fun. If she made it through 30 minutes of the hour, I'd take it. If we got there and she didn't make it at all, no big deal. I wanted her to lead the way, completely. She was in charge.
We stopped talking about expected and unexpected behaviors, because K needed to be free to be herself. That's why we signed up for this class. There was no pressure. Mom wasn't going to get angry if things didn't go perfectly. As long as she wanted to attend the class, we'd go, but she was the boss. I was just a spectator.
So, last week, when she got to class and almost immediately decided she didn't want to participate, it wasn't a big deal. It was my husband who brought her, as they had planned a special daddy/daughter day, and he called me shortly after arriving. He told me K was having a hard time, and when she got on the phone, I told her it was OK if she didn't attend class. I wasn't mad. It was her choice.
Last year I would have bribed her to stay. I would have begged her to pull it together, and finish class. *I* wanted her to be successful so badly, that I didn't allow her voice to matter. Like a lot of changes I've made lately, making sure my child has a voice is probably the most important one. It's her life, and she needs to be able to speak up for what she wants.
So, I don't look at last week as a failure, I look at it as a GIANT success. K knew she couldn't handle class, spoke up, and we listened. It was a success for her in self-advocacy, and a success for us as parents. We allowed K to do what was best for her, without feeling angry, embarrassed, or that "autism" had ruined the day. Growth all around.
This Saturday we'll go back, and maybe she'll have a great time, as she did the first two weeks of class, or maybe we'll cut out early again. Whatever happens, it will be OK. The only thing I have to worry about is if my child is happy, and letting go of everything else feels really good.