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A confidence boosting extra-curricular activity

From the age of 3, I signed Jasmine up for various activities that I thought she should do – activities her friends were doing, activities I was convinced she would love and indeed excel at.

So she did ballet, gymnastics, Tennis and violin lessons.

I had many reports from the teachers about day dreaming, lack of concentration and a lack of interest. Her gymnastics teacher phoned specifically to talk to me about her poor balance and coordination. At tennis lessons, she would sit in the corner and act out. My husband would spend minutes trying to cajole, negotiate and ultimately bribe her to take part. After 2 years of violin classes at school, she was still only really capable of playing a few notes.

We endured many Saturday mornings of screaming and shouting that she did not want to go to the planned activity, even though she had agreed to do the class at the start of term.

At the time we could not really understand what the issue was – these were classes that many of her friends and peers were either doing or talking about doing and in some instances, she had asked to do them. We concluded that she was simply naughty and acting out.

Its only now that I understand that these classes required a level of coordination and concentration that she just found too hard. Tennis, gymnastics, ballet and violin all require a tremendous amount of hand-eye coordination, balance, sequential thinking and concentration. All things dyspraxic and dyslexic children struggle with. Unable to articulate her frustrations, she resorted to acting out.

Now I am totally guided by her interests in choosing activities. I want her to enjoy her classes and to feel that she is able to excel (by her definition of excellence not mine).

This new direction has been fascinating. I have come to realize that Jasmine is a great story teller (although she struggles to write them down), a confident singer, a fast runner but above all, absolutely loves fashion design. I (and all our family and friends) have nurtured this love of fashion wholeheartedly with wonderful fashion themed birthday and Xmas presents. There are so many amazing fashion design toys, sketch books, apps and kits available now – its amazing.

In addition, she does a fashion class for 2 hours every Saturday where she has been taught to use a sewing machine and to make simple designs from patterns. I’ve been so delighted to see her come home with cushions, blouses, skirts and Xmas stockings that she has designed and made from scratch. I’m currently planning a fashion themed 8th birthday party for her on her insistence.

It is interesting – its absolutely common sense that we should be guided by our children’s interests and strengths however, the reality is many of us have our own vision of what our children should be good at, what they should do with their time and later on, what they should do with their lives. I was so so guilty of this.

Letting this all go, and choosing to be guided by Jasmine has been fascinating. I’m so very curious to see where our journey will lead.

Jasmine with her sewing machine and tools.

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ASD – our realisation

ASD – our realisation

So the latest revelation is that Jasmine has mild ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder).

Apparently many people with Specific Learning Difficulties such as dyslexia, dyspraxia and ADHD are on the Autism Spectrum.

In Jasmine’s case, her understanding of social situations, specifically reading and understanding non-verbal cues (mannerisms, facial expressions, tone of voice, social dynamics) is a bit off and as a result, her natural responses and behavior in these situations is oftentimes inadequate or inappropriate.

At school where there is structure, routine and indeed expectations of behavior in the classroom and on the playground, she is absolutely fine however, outside of these structures, she sometimes (not always) seems not to know how to behave, or indeed adjust her behavior in response to social cues.

So how does this manifest itself?

In groups she does not seem to be able to pick up when it’s appropriate to speak, laugh or be quiet. She is often the one speaking too loud, or still laughing at a joke when everyone has stopped and are silent. She also does not seem to understand that she should not talk loudly in certain places like a museum or in church. She does not recognize the change in pitch of her voice nor does she understand the disapproving looks people give her. She often laughs at inappropriate times or at things that are not funny.

What I find most difficult is when this interaction is with adults. Given her inability to regulate her tone of voice, often the questions she asks or comments she makes appear really pointed, direct and rude. She finds it difficult to make proper eye contact when speaking and often will turn her back or walk away halfway through an interaction. She literally seems oblivious to the offense she has caused. This behavior can be quite shocking to observe and appears plain rude.

Now that she is 7, this behavior is all the more embarrassing because of course at this stage, our expectation is that children should understand the norms of social behavior.

I get so angry with her – I’ve talked at length about social behavior; I’ve bought books about manners; we have manners star charts; in the car on our way to a party, play date or to visit friends, we role play what she should say [“good morning”, “very well thank you, how are you?” etc etc.] but then when we arrive she will have forgotten and would need prompting. I put her on timeouts or shout at her, but she just does not seem to get it.

The last straw came when my father in law passed away and we went to pay our condolences. The house was full of well-wishers, church friends and extended family. Her interaction was awful – she walked through the living room squeezing past groups of people without so much as a “Good Afternoon”, she avoided eye contact and responded to questions she was asked whilst looking in the other direction, she spoke at the top of her voice when a small group were saying a prayer and would not lower her voice even after being prompted five or six times, she walked away mid sentence when someone spoke to her and when it was time to leave, she did not say goodbye to anyone but rather walked out (stumbling over coats and handbags) with a slight flick of her hand with her back turned.

I was so so angry, I screamed at her when we got into the car and when she said “but Mummy what did I do wrong?” with such sincerity, I was so exasperated; I just resorted to crying the rest of the way home.

My emotions were all over the place. Initially I felt anger and shame – anger because I’ve worked so hard trying to teach her manners to no avail and shame because of the way her behavior reflected on me, people would think I cannot teach my child simple values. After I got over the anger and shame, I started to worry. I worried that people would start to exclude her (from party invites, play dates etc.), that she would be labeled, but also how this behavior if left unchecked, could undermine all her other strengths as she gets older.

I went looking for answers and sought help.

On speaking to experts, they’ve explained she has mild ASD and that the behavior described above is symptomatic.

So what now? Well, apparently in mild cases such as Jasmine’s, social skills can be learned through role-play and repetition. We are going to start group sessions soon.

My special child continues to challenge me. I pray for patience, I pray for help and I pray for understanding. Most importantly, I pray for the ability to focus on the positive in the face of my frustration because of course, it could be so much worse.

I’m only human – it’s not easy.

I will write again soon about how this aspect is going.

Dyslexia is real

Dyslexia is real

Welcome to Special Child. For my first ever blog post, I thought I’d share this quote that I came across online. I thought it was packed with so many truths.

I love quotes. Sometimes you just need a little lift, a little reminder of what you already know, delivered short and sweet. I’m going to find and share many such quotes. We all need a bit of a lift from time to time.

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