It’s opposite day in our home. If I say “up”, my daughter says, “down”. If I say “left”, she says “right”. A never ending game where she challenges everything. Or simply offers a “no…no no no!” I am grateful for her attention and her frequent response to a question. I have a daughter and she has a voice. Autism will not take away her ability to speak up and out. No matter what her first evaluations concluded, she will ultimately not be silenced by this diagnosis.
As a woman committed to the rights of all women, I have been silent about my fears that my daughter would not have a voice. The first time I heard a recognizable word spoken by our three and a half year old, I tempered my excitement. Two years later, our little girl was just starting to request juice by pointing and using one word. More often than not though, I was convinced she was attentive to our conversations.
It wasn’t until this past year that I can confirm, she has always ‘been present’. Autism impacts language, social interaction, and is characterized by some type of fixed or repetitive interest or behavior. Little to no speech, no consistent response to our interactions and fixed interests made connecting with our child frustrating.
As someone who makes a living understanding a person’s internal world, I was always most concerned that we would never really know how she feels. As the birth to three program led to special education, we watched Sage blossom. Academics are her strength, but if she can’t give her opinions about the books she reads, she won’t get credit. Besides the obvious need to meet her academic goals, I really just want to know what she likes about these stories. I want to get to know her.
In the past three months or so, we have gotten to know our daughter. In our attempts to decrease her hyperactivity and inattention, we succeeded in making her more present. She still has classic symptoms of autism, yet she is accessible and communicates constantly.
Be careful what you ask for though. I now know my little girl loves me, but wants me to go away. “No no no no…that’s mine.” Translation, she can do it. Or, “I can do it Momma!” She generally says this with pride and more than a little attitude.
As she discovers the skills to negotiate the social world, she is making up for lost time. I know what she prefers for dinner, rather than offering two choices. She seems empowered to say “no” to a variety of activities. The more she offers, the more she gives her opinion, the less I worry. I am convinced this little girl will become an outspoken woman and find her voice in many ways throughout her life.