“Stephanie!” I yelled a foot from her face but there wasn’t flinch. Stephanie isn’t deaf, though, when focused on something else that mistake could be made.
When kids were around Stephanie always wanted to be with them. Stephanie referred to all kids’ as, “My friends,” and that was whether Steph had ever seen them before. The problem being that she was unable to connect with the other children. I was dumbfounded and to this day can’t understand why. Though, her pediatrician told me she may have autism and gave me the name and number of an organization to call so I could be sure and for more help. I made that phone call after watching her actions at home more carefully.
I noted how she was always repeating everything, not only her words but also in her playing. She would build something and nearly finish it but then, knock it all down and start building it the exact same way again making only minor changes. I read stories to her and she would always want the same one read over and over. She could sit for long periods of time going page by page through the phone book; a few days later and she discovered the Bible, Old Testament, New Testament, upside down or right side up, page after organized page she would turn.
“It may be forever difficult for her to have friends or to interact with people…Stephanie has autism.” She was two years old so what would that diagnosis mean for her? Will she be in special education all of her school years? Will she need someone to look after her even when she gets older? My daughter in all of her niceness and politeness and who absolutely loves all has been unable to build a rapport with the other children.
At the park, Stephanie got her shovel and was ready to scoop the sand with the other two & tree year-olds. However, when she reached those kids they put their pails and shovels down and went to the swings. She scooped a couple plastic shovelfuls of sand but within a few minutes was up and following them to the swings. My heart ached. I watched Steph innocently copy their actions in hopes that they would notice her. The kids went onto the slide…so did Stephanie. I awkwardly (I suffer from a TBI and my walking is not smooth) walked over and told her to slide down because she had decided to sit at the top, with the other kids standing on the ladder wanting another turn. “Come on Steph, slide down,” and after some coaxing, she did.
During one of her indoor classes at Early Childhood Family Education I couldn’t help but notice how she was always the thoughtful one and since that time I’ve noticed the same caring wherever we go. Stephanie is consistently the child to give up the ball or to let others move ahead of her while waiting in line.
One afternoon while driving in our car Stephanie said, “See the animals Dad, see the animals!” The zoo would be closing shortly and was 25 miles away, so I suggested a playground instead and she was all excited about that.
While we were at the playground though she would not play. It was as if she froze up (it was a different playground than what she was used to) but I didn’t consider the possibility that it might make a difference, but of course, it did. I was unable to get her to swing, slide or bounce with me on a large black mat – springy thing. Instead, she walked back and forth along a connecting bridge to another slide but Steph would not slide down. Unable to get her to slide down she walked back to the bridging and stopped in the middle. We remained for twenty minutes neither of us doing anything. “Okay Steph, let’s go.” A blaring, “No” was her only reply and then when I grabbed her, “No, no, no” as she became a wet noodle that was nearly impossible to pick up.
At that time (three years), she had also gotten too big to ride in the grocery cart (her summation). So I had her walk alongside and hang onto the cart but on one occasion at the supermarket Stephanie lost her composure.
I had gone to a “Discovery Series” on autism (we were members of the Minnesota autism society) prior to this and had been told that autistic kids have “meltdowns”. That is when they are basically in another world and oblivious to their surroundings. Their body becomes wet noodle like (limp) and I also learned that they don’t see people as people, but as objects (I don’t understand that one) I always listened intently so I would know what to do should the situation ever arise; and it did.
While I was busy at the meat counter Stephanie wandered off, though, still within eyesight. When done I called to Stephanie, but she looked in my direction as if she didn’t even know me and yelled, “No!” Well I remembered enough not to spank her (please remember, I have a TBI so my memory is not the greatest) and I knew yelling was the wrong thing but the stares from other shoppers, oh the stares. I walked over to Stephanie and lovingly picked her up (I never got angry with her because I knew that she could not help being as she was) then gently set her in the cart and proceeded quickly to the front of the store and the cashier. Stephanie cried during the spontaneous ride to checkout and I grumbled to myself.
We paid our bill but the cashier in the next lane gave Steph a sucker; she quieted down immediately. Now, if she begins acting up I just get her a cracker or something to divert her attention. I thanked the lady and we walked out of the store. Stephanie became so angelic towards me that I could not be upset with her. That is only one reason Stephanie is my darling – she is so sweet most of the time.
Stephanie attended a preschool for the developmentally disabled. Her bubbly, happy teachers Peggy and Terri, were excited to have Stephanie join the class and even more excited when they phoned me with the following, “We have great news and are so excited that we just want to be sure that you’ll be at the upcoming conference because Stephanie is doing so well! We will make the recommendation that she be integrated with non‑disabled students at least one day a week. Terri and I will talk more about this at the meeting on the sixth.”
At Stephanie’s conference, Peggy began, “We love conferences like this. It’s all good news”, she said, “I didn’t think this was the same girl that the IEP (Individual Education Plan) was written for.” (This was a new school district we had transferred to and Stephanie’s previous, in‑home teacher wrote the IEP. The new teacher’s didn’t know Steph; they followed the plan that had already been written.) “Yeah,” Terri said, “She is very responsive, outgoing and intelligent.”
Peggy chimed in, “I thought, according to this” ‑ holding up her previous IEP, “that we would be dealing with a withdrawn and unintelligible little girl. It’s only been three months and her progress is amazing. Continue whatever you’re doing at home.”
Then I slipped in, “She amazes me all the time, but thought I just adored her too much and I have to tell you that you’re doing a terrific job at this school, thanks.”
Stephanie’s improvement this past year has been remarkable. Her mother and I are in the midst of a divorce and Stephanie has been living with only me since June. She does not have to listen to anymore fighting. The combination of so many positive changes (divorce in this instance), the move to a nicer residence, swimming lessons and school, gave a new, refreshing view of life.
My little angel was a perfect baby and toddler up to age three, but it is now as if somebody gave her hyper pills. She is tightly wound all of her waking hours. She likes to be in perpetual motion until forced to sit with me on the couch at 9 P.M. Fifteen minutes later I say, “Let’s go to the bathroom,” and she replies, “I’m tired Daddy.” And I say, “I know, let’s go before you fall asleep.” Then she gets up and we go to the potty, wash‑up, brush her teeth and put on her pajamas. We then go back to the couch where we watch one episode of her Good Night Show cartoons. We walk up the stairs to her bedroom. I read her a book and finally, we say a prayer…”Good night darling angel and thank you.” I say thank you because she is an angel, possibly sent to watch over me, I am a lucky guy.