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From Inside the Puzzle: Raising a Child with Autism Blog

A Look Back at an Awesome 2011

Published December 30, 2011 12:06 PM by Devon Alley
I spent the early hours of the morning polishing up a post on my other blog looking at all of the major events and accomplishments in my life throughout 2011, but I felt as if I also needed to specifically point out some of what I felt were A.'s greatest moments of 2011, as well. So, without further ado, here are ten really awesome and amazing things about A. from this past year:

1. A. developed her own unique and interesting personality.

Whether it was editing Wikipedia or building a Wikia of her creative characters or Rick-Rolling me on a daily basis or learning to draw Manga, she began to develop her own unique combination of sassiness, geekery, and creativity that I feel are the foundations for her emerging personality.

2. A. became really interested in family, and also started really enjoying holidays.

In 2011, A. started showing some honest interest and curiosity in to what family members were doing. My daughter really became excited about and interested in what I did at work all day, and then eventually became interested in Thomas's and even my mother's daily activities, as well. She also became interested in family history, calling me out of the blue to ask me when people were born and what years people died.  She also did an amazing job at holidays and family events -- vacations, Halloween, and Christmas. It was a year full of wonderful memories, and I was grateful that she genuinely seemed to enjoy them all.

3. A. really got in touch with her emotions.

Part of it may be hormonal, part of it may be her growing awareness of the world around her, and part of it may just be how difficult it is for anyone to ever grow up, but either way, A. has become increasingly sensitive and emotional this year. I come from a family that tended to shun displays of emotion, so learning to be nurturing and supportive as she expresses these displays has presented quite the challenge for me. I feel I am really beginning to learn how to better deal with these moments, however, and it seems to be apparent since A. still feels comfortable (for the most part) expressing her emotions around me.

4. A. made a lot of progress at school.

In the second half of 2010, A. had a lot of difficulties adjusting to her new school. This resulted in an emergency IEP meeting which pulled A. from her mainstream setting and placed her into a CDC classroom. At the time, I was cautiously optimistic about the move, and I had these hopes for her development:
"In the meantime, however, I'm hoping she can establish some confidence and valuable social skills under the strong and dedicated guidance of some amazing teachers. And, ultimately, what I hope for -- my most secret, soft wish for my daughter -- is that she will come to a place where she likes school again, and where she likes herself as a student again. I want a week where I pick her up and her day was not full of misery, struggle, and disappointment. I hope that this knowledge and these exercises will inspire her, empower her, and help her understand just how amazing and awesome she truly is."
Amazingly enough, that's exactly what happened. By early 2011, she was being integrated back into the mainstream classroom, and, furthermore, she was making friends -- friends she'd eat lunch with, make jokes with, invite over for playdates, and friends I'm happy to say she still has to this day. She started doing better with her work, tolerating boys, and generally doing a much better job with her behavior in the classroom. She even had an amazing experience at Field Day -- an event that is historically not a great situation for her. She also won a Science Award and a P.E. Award at Awards Day this year. I honestly have to attribute a lot of this progress to the awesome CDC teacher she had at the first of the year -- she really did an amazing job at helping A. develop some incredible coping mechanisms that she still uses today. (Thanks, Andie!)

Her transition to Middle School also went much more smoothly than I expected.  Aside from some initial problems with math, she's actually been an absolute rock star at Middle School, making all A's & B's (except for math, which I am proud to say she's brought up to a C.) She even performed at a concert in band and has now moved on to play the percussion instruments that she is incredibly passionate about. Most importantly, she seems genuinely interested in school and no longer loathes going -- even though she still calls me to try to get me to pick her up for every small ailment and belly ache. :-)

5. A. made a lot of progress with prevocational skills.

Not only did she assist me at work, but she also was very engaged, interested, and wonderful at helping to feed homeless people when we visited a local ministry center.  She also started learning the appropriate social skills for a telephone conversation, how to shop for groceries, and how to ride a four-wheeler, just to name a few of the skills she's worked on this year.

6. A. started really exploring what it meant to be autistic.

A. continued to become very self-aware throughout 2011 on many different levels, but one of the things that she spent a lot of time on was exploring what it means to be autistic. This came about in part due to her discovery that some people want to cure autism, and her genuine horror at that possibility. She started describing herself to others as autistic, and even did a guest post on my blog for Autistics Speaking Day. I'm hoping to help her shape this awareness and pride of autism into the foundation for self-advocacy.

7. A. started growing up.

There were a lot of amazing milestones this year -- some I can't really talk about publicly, some that involved perceptive self-care initiatives, and some that were simply acknowledging that she needed to let go of bedtime stories and stuffed animals because she was a "big preteen" now. Occasionally, this was difficult for me to wrap my mind around, but overall I was excited about creating a different sort of relationship with my daughter -- one that better matched her maturity level and demonstrated that I respected her as the emerging young adult she will become soon enough.

8. A. did an amazing job as Flower Girl for my wedding.

The wedding was a challenge for A., but she really did an incredible job -- from her delightful performance as Flower Girl, to her fun-filled dance to the Black-Eyed Peas, to taking much-needed time to "chill out." I was so very proud of her and how well she did the entire hectic, crazy, and beautiful day.

9. 2011 was the year of slumber parties.


A. actually threw THREE SLUMBER PARTIES this year -- one in February, one in August for her birthday, and another one in December. She did amazing at each one of these; I, on the other hand, am still attempting to recover. :-)

10. A. was the Queen of Empathy.

For a child who, according to many voices in mainstream media, is not supposed to have any empathy at all, my daughter showed amazing amounts of empathy in 2011. Whether she was making sure a friend was okay over the phone or helping her mother go through her own embarrassing meltdown, the year was full of spontaneous displays of empathy, sympathy, support, and understanding. In her own words: "That's what heroes do. Heroes have gentle, loving hearts, and they have to make sure their family and friends are okay." A. has definitely been my empathic, autistic hero for 2011. (For more information on dispelling common myths of autism and empathy, be sure to visit this amazing website: http://www.autismandempathy.com.)

It has been an amazing year, and I'm so, so very proud of all of the progress, accomplishments, and achievements A. made in 2011. I'm looking forward to a wonderful 2012! (If I can ever convince her that the world is not about to end, that is...)
posted by Devon Alley
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