Since Bailey started her new school I have witnessed some of the friendliest children try to engage her. The kindness that the kids (and adults) have shown her leaves me utterly speechless. It’s such a breath of fresh air after the negative experiences she had at her previous school.
I have noticed a few instances, however, where Bailey has flat-out ignored a person who greets her. One morning as I walked her up to the school building, she was anxious while going over her little laundry list of worries. A boy called out to her from a few yards away and asked if she wanted to walk with him to class. Without a word she quickly looked in the opposite direction. The snub wasn’t directed at me but I sure felt the sting. When she’s so caught up with what is going on in her mind, she just refuses to give anyone else the time of day.
Another day, not long after moving here, we went to check out the local library and a little girl approached me to ask if she could say hello to Bailey. I was delighted and said “sure!” but Bailey just stood there and look everywhere but at the girl. Soon after the mother approached us and asked if this was the new girl at school. We made a little small tall, all the while I’m gently nudging Bailey to speak but instead she abruptly spins around and walks away. I felt a twinge of embarrassment that Bailey had once again come across a bit snobby, so I threw the “she’s a little shy” comment out there, which was such a lie. I’m not in the habit of dropping the “A” bomb just as I’m meeting new people. Usually that comes if we spend any significant amount of time getting to know each other. Even with all that we did manage to set up a play date, which wasn’t any more successful. It started out promising with Bailey being a lot more enthusiastic and outgoing, but her perservating on certain topics quickly turned the little girl off and she obviously became annoyed with Bailey very quickly. When we left I was not so confident that we would be invited back.
Over the weeks Bailey has come home with stories from her classmates, such as the world coming to an end in May. June has safely arrived but having to reassure her all through the months of April and May was extremely tiresome. I also found her in her bed a few nights ago terrified and crying because some little jerk (sorry, I don’t typically call children jerks, but this kid was a big jerk) told her that her stuffed animals can come to life while she’s sleeping and kill her. My child has always loved her stuffed animals more than any of her other toys and usually will carry one or two wherever she goes. So you can imagine her horror at hearing that her precious, fluff-filled friends would do her in. The effort it takes to calm her anxiety is so emotionally draining, and the little turkeys who tell her these absurd stories are really starting to tick me off. I get the impression that little girls this age typically ignore the nonsense and tell the stinky boys to ‘shut up’, but Bailey takes every word that is spoken to her to heart. She carries them around with her. They affect her entire being. The “that’s just kids being kids” business does not fly with me, especially when my little girl is left in a puddle and I’m the one cleaning up the mess.
There was also a recent birthday party that inevitably and glaringly put Bailey’s awkwardness on display. First it was all the sideways glances Bailey got from so many of the girls as if they were looking at a two-headed monkey. Then one little girl asked her why she kept making strange noises. But what really made my heart sink was when Bailey walked past two of the girls – with her noises and hand flapping – and watching them whisper and frown as they stared at Bailey walking away.
When it’s just me and her, Bailey is just Bailey… Quirky, silly, fun, sometimes moody like she’s 5 or 6 years older than she actually is. I love to hear the crazy made up songs she sings, filled with nonsensical words. I don’t mind the pacing because I know it’s calming for her. I don’t mind the crashing noises or contorted facial expressions. I’ve come to just expect those little things as part of the day. But seeing her in a group of her peers, Asperger’s screams at me. Out of control, noisy, different, loud, odd, fixated, annoying, emotionally immature like she’s 3 or 4 years younger than she actually is.
I worry so much about her making friends. I worry that all the moving we’ve done so early in her life has prevented her from even having the desire to make friends. I worry about her being made fun of, being bullied, pressured into doing things a more socially savvy child wouldn’t be suckered into doing. I also worry about her turning potential friends off by coming across cold, loud, and annoying. I worry about kids who don’t take the time to look past all the quirks and strange echolalia to get to know that bubbly, energetic, imaginative and adventurous little girl that I know.
But in the midst of all the disappointing encounters that squash my hopes of solid friendships for her, sometimes little things happen that make me feel lighter than air and replenish that hope.
One of the first few days I went into the school office to pick Bailey up, I noticed a little boy walk in with Bailey and Miss T, the Special Education teacher. Adam was in a pretty rotten mood and obviously annoyed by anything and everything. Over the next few days seeing him come in every afternoon, I got the distinct impression that he was a bit more profoundly affected by ASD than Bailey.
Over time I noticed him coming out of his shell a bit, making a point to say goodbye to Bailey as we would leave, and eventually he even started saying goodbye to me too. One day after she told him she would see him the following day, he enthusiastically sat up straight and said “Bye Bailey, I love you!” Miss. T and I looked at each other with eyes as wide as saucers. Miss T said, “wow things move pretty fast in the second grade!” and I laughed so hard. It was incredibly sweet and innocent, and it made me happy to know that my Bailey, as difficult as she can be sometimes, has managed to get through the wall that Adam built for himself.
Weeks later when I was in the office to pick Bailey up, she and Adam were deep in conversation as Miss T and I talked about their day. She began telling me that she was amazed at how they are with each other. That Adam has never responded to anyone like he has with Bailey. She told me of how patient Bailey is with him when no other child in the school has been, and how he holds appropriate conversations with her when he usually struggles with them.
As I stood there watching them hug each other goodbye, it hit me. I’ve been so concerned with neurotypical kids accepting and understanding Bailey, and her not driving them away with her quirkiness, that I didn’t stop to realize what an awesome friend SHE can be to someone even further down the spectrum. Someone who looks straight through her quirkiness to see her, just like she looks through his quirkiness to see him. Bailey is capable of being the one that offers comfort to the child who is high-strung and gets hysterical over discomfort (when she herself is not in the middle of hysterics, that is). Bailey is the one that says “cool!” to the child who comes up with the oddest name for a friendship group. Bailey is the one who has patience with the child who refuses to stop talking about chicken patties. Her responses may not be appropriate or on topic, and may even include ToonTown references, but she is still showing great patience.
Now when I see Adam, he is relaxed and cheerful. It’s the best feeling in the world knowing that my girl played a part in that. All the things I have desperately wanted for her to receive, she already has in her heart to give to others. I just need to focus on helping her pull those things out more, instead of focusing on what others give her. I can’t make her peers magically accept all the little things about her that may turn them off. I would rather put my energy into making sure she’s equipped with all the ingredients to make the best chicken patty on the planet, so she is that special friend to someone who needs her the most.