The Saturday Morning Integrated Leisure Experience is an amazing facilitated playgroup for children aged 3-5 with and without disabilities run by the YMCA for our local county therapeutic recreation services. They get to do exercise, listen to stories, sing, and art projects. As Pudding is in an autism-specific classroom all week, this is the only supported time she spends with typically developing children. As an added bonus, the volunteers are excellent, therefore the rest of the family gets 3 hours of respite. Time to do those chores that are so much more difficult to do with Pudding around. Time to spend on Cubby. You want more? Okay- every other week they go swimming, with one-on-one volunteers, and learn the basics of water safety. Are you sold yet? I am. They had me at respite.
When we first took Pudding earlier this year though, she wasn't sold. She walked in fine, but squeezed my hand harder. One of the volunteers distracted her with puzzles as I spoke with the leader. I hadn't even finished when she was back, climbing up on me as though I were a tree. I explained how I was going to leave, and she would stay and play, and have fun. She cried, clinging harder. I left anyway, leaving her in the hands of the two volunteers it took to calm her down. I felt that stab of jealousy towards the other parents who could just simply goodbye to their smiling children. She ran at me when it was time to collect her. It had taken half an hour for her to calm down and settle in, the volunteers informed me- nothing they couldn't handle. (Yes, they're that good!).
She really didn't want to go again after that, and would whine through the entire car journey, but she was lured by the promise of swimming. For the next 5 weeks she continued to go, clinging less each time, but still requiring 10 minutes to calm down. 10 minutes of Pudding crying and screaming and upsetting the other children. I've lived through many of these episodes, 10 minutes can be everlasting. Then in March the session was over and was not to be continued until October.
Before we knew it, October was here, and Saturday marked the return of S.M.I.L.E. I didn't tell Pudding about it. When she found her old Dora suitcase she would carry her swimming things in, she mentioned taking it to S.M.I.L.E., but I didn't say anything. Pudding has been making advances lately, we're going through a good spell. I didn't want to break that spell. With all the ups and downs that the last month has brought, she has weathered them well, and I didn't want to take her back to that girl who would sob as I left her each week. I know that isn't the bravest approach to take, but it is hard to be brave when you've been holding your breath for a long time.
So on Saturday morning, Spectrummy Daddy asked her if she wanted to go, and she said "yes". She sang all the way there, then skipped into the building. She ran into the room when it was time, and started an activity by herself, with a MALE volunteer! She said goodbye and hugged us, but turned quickly back to drawing. She wasn't even distracted by another girl who was flinging herself on the floor in a meltdown like the ghost of Pudding Past. Was that really just 6 months ago? I arrived early to collect her and peeped through the glass on the door to see her cantering around the room with some other kids, a huge grin on her face. She looked up and saw me before I could hide, but she just stopped, beamed at me, then carried on. When the door opened 5 minutes later, she was happy, but not eager to leave. She collected her artwork, and said goodbye to the room, and left them with her radiant smile.
I don't know if this spell is going to last. I wish I knew what wizardry was making it happen. It could be the result of her teacher's efforts, or getting used to being around more kids, or her dietary changes, or the therapies, or just natural development as she gets older. I don't know why we go through a huge leap forward at some times, and just as big a move backwards at others. I don't get it, I don't understand it. It is a mystery. So movements can be both baffling and bittersweet. This merry-go-round might just spin us soon in a direction we won't want to take. Until then, I'll smile and enjoy the ride, holding these moments close for sustenance when needed, hoping that won't be for a while.
Spectrummy Mummy can usually be found at http://spectrummymummy.wordpress.com or on Facebook and Twitter.