Anna has been making up stories lately. They stick close to home, such as some event that has transpired in kindergarten. She'll tell me about something that happened in a particular day, and embellish it a little bit. Only I don't know what is embellishment and what is the truth until I ask her teacher how the events actually went down. She usually repeats these little stories, like she is trying to work something out. She'll say the stories as statements, but there's a slight lift in her tone of voice which tells me she's asking a question. And lately I've been not sure how exactly to respond.
Let me pause here to tell you that I have sort of a complex. I feel utterly inadequate as a parent. Maybe every parent feels this way, but I've got it bad. Before getting pregnant with Anna, I was totally confident that I had what it took to raise children. After Anna was born, I fell apart. At first I was terrified of being left alone with her. I felt like I was not getting this parenting thing right, and I had a huge responsibility - the life and future of a child! What if I messed it up? It didn't help that she had breathing problems just after birth, and I obsessed over every little sigh and pause in her breathing. After I got used her to breathing, things got a little better until the ASD became obvious. Then I really felt inadequate. I stayed home with her 24/7 and she still needed outside help (doctors, therapists)...I know it's not fair, but it's still hard not to feel like a total failure when you need a therapist's help to unlock your child enough so they will hug you, or talk to you. So fast forward to today, when Anna is communicating meaningfully with us. This really does still feel novel. It sort of feels like she jumped from not being able to communicate, to communicating pretty well, to making up stories, in less than a year. It feels like she's skipped whole years of development and made up for lost time in just a few months. So it's still a little freaky that she's coming home with stories from kindergarten, and I don't know what's truth or not in what she says, and I'm not sure how to respond. Okay, back on track now...
So Anna has been telling me stories about her day. Not every day, maybe once or twice a week. They usually center on something she has done, and something someone else has done. It starts with her. I'll ask her what happened, and then the embellishment will include a classmate or two. Since her making up stories like this is new, I don't know if she's telling me a fantasy or not. We've just speed-raced to the storytelling point, and now I can't decipher fact from fiction. But the thing is, she's asking me a question. What is her question? She can't tell me. It's still difficult for her to answer why questions. Trying to talk with her - trying to capitalize on the window of opportunity she's presenting - feels next to impossible, because she can't take it farther than the statement of fact (her story), we just communicate in circles. So I fall back on black and white issues (such as "it is not okay to yell at someone, that's rude"). Only I feel like more and more lately, it is less and less helpful to talk to Anna about black and white. That is not the question she is asking. And I can't answer a question I can't hear.
Tonight something about this was really bothering me. She told me a story about how she yelled at her teacher today. I really doubted this was true, since she's a rule follower, once she knows what rules have been established. But I treated what she told me as if it were true, and I told her that I was disappointed, and that it's rude to yell at her teacher, and I hope she did not do that again. She agreed with me completely. That's not the answer she was looking for. She repeated her story a couple more times (we were driving in the car), and I ended up firmly telling her that was not acceptable behavior. A few hours later, she came up to me and told me her story again. She was seeking an answer to a question. I didn't know what to do, so I answered as before and then told her I didn't want to talk about it again now that we've established the rules. And I felt terrible, feeling that I was missing something important.
So I got on the phone and talked to a good friend (E, you rock!), trying to sort this out, knowing it would be easier if I talked to someone about it. And my friend told me that this is typical behavior for 5 year olds, and not to look at it through an ASD filter. That Anna is probably trying to work out how she feels about something, and that it's great she feels safe enough with me to talk with me about it. That she's branching out from a black and white world into a world of feelings, of the consequences to acting on what she feels. She did not yell at her teacher. But maybe she felt like yelling at her teacher, and her question was how does she deal with the feelings? Are they bad? Or is the action (the yelling) bad? And how should she navigate how she feels to come to an acceptable course of action?
Wow. Typical behavior. I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Typical behavior in an ASD child. Right now that's blowing my mind. I've got typical, and ASD, all rolled up into one little girl who's trying to sort out how she feels. Now I really feel inadequate. But, typical feelings are something I think I can address with her without hauling her to a specialist. I can't wait to get up in the morning and reintroduce the conversation and talk about what actually happened and how she felt about it. You know, it's great. My typical ASD girl, she's like a diamond - beautiful and complex - and perfect.