Sunday, October 27, 2013

What Defines Maturity?

Have you been to an IEP meeting or a doctor's appointment prepared to discuss what you feel are real and critical problems with your child, only to be told the main concern is, "we are worried that your child is too immature"? There have been meetings where I have felt really good about Little Miss M's progress, only to be told, "she's very immature for her age, and we are concerned because she has trouble relating to other kids, due to her interests being so juvenile."

Little Miss M is almost eight years old. From the time she was five until recently, I listened to the professionals and I pushed. I told her that her beloved Dora the Explorer and Blues Clues were too young for her and that babies watched them. I told her it was okay to like princesses but not to talk about them. In short, we gave our sweet and loving daughter a complex, and for what reason?

I understand that children with Autism Spectrum Disorders have difficulties communicating and having interactive and reciprocal relationships. I really do get that. I also understand the intention behind telling me that my daughter was immature was to give her the tools to make connections with her peers. However, I believe this back-fired on us. We forced "people-shows" and movies on her, some she really did like, and has added into her playlist; others bored her instantly and made her deem all people-shows as dull and uninteresting.

I was shocked to find that at seven years old, my beautiful daughter shouldn't be talking about Disney Princesses. I thought it was perfectly acceptable. This whole ordeal has weighed heavily on my mind, and I've heard other parents go through the same problems.

I had to examine what I wanted, and how what I wanted fit into Little Miss M's personality. No, I didn't want Little Miss M babied, but I did want her taken care of and watched out for. No, I didn't want the other children to roll their eyes when she spoke, but I did want them to kindly listen -- even if it wasn't something that interested them. Little Miss M has been with a lot of the same children since preschool. She is quite a good actress and when she was smaller, it was very easy to "play the part" of a typical peer. As she's gotten older, the physical differences and developmental differences have become much more noticeable, and although she sometimes still tries, she seems to have embraced who she is. Even if Little Miss M didn't have special needs, she's a unique soul and her eccentricities truly make her so lovable. I've seen her peers grow-up with her. I've watched her teach them empathy and caring, without even knowing she was doing it. The kids don't really seem to care that Little Miss M would rather talk about a Disney Junior television show or the new toy she wants for Christmas instead of the latest tween boy pop star.

I, however, need to undo the damage we did by forcing the professional's maturity on her. Every time Little Miss M sees a preview for something, she will ask "Is this perfect for me, or is it too baby?". She's forced herself to latch onto movies, shows and stories that involve people and not animation. This is a tricky place. I will continue to introduce age-appropriate and cognitively appropriate materials to her, I want her to know there is an immense amount of literature and art out there for her to fall in love with. I, however, vow to introduce it, to share my love of certain things, and then to let her take the reins. I will meet her where she is; I will join in her stories and in her passions. I will not force other kid's passions on her, because she's too immature. I want her to be surrounded by things she loves and is engaged in, because the engagement is what we're really after.

I wish I had this reflection years ago, when the subject of maturity came up. I would have told those professionals about my daughter who loves cartoons and Disney Princesses, but who also loves the theater and is mature enough to sit (relatively quietly) through an entire act of a show. I would have told them I embrace my daughter's "juvenile" story-lines, because she is engaging with me by sharing them. I would have asked those professionals what their definition of maturity is, because in my humble opinion, any seven-year old who calmly walks into a blood-draw and sits in the chair alone, extends her arm and calmly breathes or who lies perfectly still and awake for a short brain MRI; is plenty mature for her age! I'm done caring if her interests match her age level. I choose only to care if her happiness on the inside matches her gorgeous smile on the outside!.


Amanda still like Disney Princesses and cartoons too, so she has trouble seeing this as a negative in her daughter.

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