Like any child with Autism, Eliza always struggled with socializing and interaction however she never lacked friendships. Many kids just seemed to know she was a little different and it showed in their hesitant and gentle approach. The ones that really got to know her started to ask their parent’s about why she didn’t speak, why she still wore nappies, why she flapped her arms when excited and made funny noises. Thankfully those parents are very good friends of mine and wonderful parents and explained it to their kids in whatever way they could. I will never forget when a close friend told me that her son and his friend were discussing Eliza in the back of the car as she drove them somewhere. One boy asked why Eliza had gone to a different school and did not speak much and made funny noises and her son started to explain to his friend “…well you see she is wired differently to us, her brain is different so she needs a bit longer to do the things we do and goes to a new school for help ok?”. Both boys are the same age as Eliza and at just 6 yrs old they are trying their best to understand their friend and others that are like her. I am thankful to my friends that have taken the time to explain to their children and help them understand Eliza. I am lucky to have such loving and caring people in our lives.
The friends she kept from mainstream nursery and the ones she has made at special school have all helped her to develop in so many ways. Being very visual she would often sit back and watch things before trying them and has much more confidence now. School itself has been amazing and encouraging and helped her to be the little independent diva she is today. Imaginative play was extremely hard for Eliza at one point, she just did not understand why you would ‘pretend’ something or ‘act’ things out. I wanted to change that because I felt she was missing out on so much fun. So we did lots of role play with toys, dressing up in costumes, building with mega blocks and play doh. Finally about 2 years ago I sat sorting through the post that had arrived and I could hear lots of noise. When excited, Eliza stims – flappy arms and legs often accompanied by “eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee” noise. I looked in to the lounge to see she had the play garage out and was pushing the car around up and down the ramps and enjoying it. I asked her what she was doing and she replied “car runs” meaning driving the car. Simple but the start of her imagination when it comes to play.
Often things done at school would then be done at home, showing me that she was learning how to play. Having had dolls and prams for ages that gathered dust in the corner, suddenly dolly would be given pretend dinner and a pretend bath before being walked around the house in the buggy a few times. Simple play that so many parents take for granted and I was finally witnessing it and better still, Eliza was enjoying it. She tried ‘baby ballet’ for a year when she was 3 and I think that also helped as often to learn certain moves or positions the dance teacher would say things like “Reach high as if you are grabbing the stars”. At first Eliza would look at the teacher as if to say ‘she’s nuts’ but then seeing the other girls do it, she was able to understand what was asked of her. The picture above is one I took over half term. We had the play doh out and we made cakes. I made a birthday cake with a candle (clearly I need to get out more judging by the effort I put in to that cake) and I held it up and showed her. She grinned and shouted “Happy Birthday Eliza” and pretended to blow the candle out. She melts my heart.
I often push Eliza’s comfort zone and boundaries and I feel confident that I know her limits for things. Baby Ballet was great for her as it helped with socializing as well as imagination, balance and learning to follow instructions. She has also tried Rainbows, sports groups and attends various play dates with her friends. There is a definite love for dancing, she is at after school dance club as I write this. She wants to try cheer leading when school returns in September. I don’t mind what she tries and whether it lasts a week or a year I am just happy she has found the confidence to go out and do things. I really believe a lot of it is down to her little group of friends that always include her and, in their own ways, encourage her all the time. Bless them all (and the lovely parents) xx