Today my daughter tried out a dance class for kids with Autism. She loves to dance, and really wanted to try Irish Step, but the studios here are hardcore with their behavior guidelines. It would just never work. So, I took to Google and found a place with classes just for kids on the spectrum.
Katie was very excited to go. I was excited to see her succeed. She has such a hard time in any activity, and she deserves to do something that makes her happy. A place where she is fully accepted.
The class was an hour long, and started off really well. She was participating alongside everyone else, and seemed to be having a great time.
Then she wasn't.
Part of it was her being tired, and probably a little overloaded, after that first half hour. An hour of any activity is just really difficult for K. She tires easily, gets overheated easily, and that makes her pretty unhappy about everything. I saw it coming, but parents aren't allowed in the studio. I so badly wanted to run in and take her out for a break, but I was also hoping she would rebound on her own.
She ended up leaving the studio herself, telling me she didn't want to do dance anymore. She said it was "boring", which is basically just the word she uses for everything. She's used that word for years when she is unhappy. I am not sure she knows exactly what it means, but I know what she means.
(She also told me the class was "lame", which is a new word she picked up from some show on Netflix. Cue me removing the Netflix app from her iPad for a while, since all she seems to do lately is script lines from tween shows. Sigh.)
I sat with her on a bench, trying to coax her into 1)telling me exactly what was wrong (not going to happen, but I try) and 2)trying to get her to go back into the class. There was a time when I would have just packed our bags and hightailed it out of there, but sometimes Katie just needs a little break, and a little push. I wasn't ready to give up just yet.
I told her I would make up a prize box, just like we have for piano lessons, and if she behaves in the expected way (Hello, Social Thinking!), she can earn a prize. Earning something can be a great motivator for Katie.
At first I wasn't sure even the promise of a prize box would get her back into class. Her anxieties started to take over, and for a few minutes she got a bit more upset. Crying. Hiding her face in her legs. I was almost ready to pull the plug...
But, she came back. She worked through her feelings, and went back in. The rest of the class went smoothly, and she started having fun again. Laughing, smiling, participating. She even said she wanted to come back, which is huge.
Now, to be perfectly honest, there is a part of me that feels guilty that she was the only kid who needed a break. The only kid who had some undesirable behaviors, and couldn't make it the whole way through. I even apologized to the teacher, and for a second I was sure she wouldn't be invited to actually enroll in the class. Thankfully, it didn't seem to be a big deal, and I am hoping each week she does a bit better.
I told Katie that she can take a break when she starts to feel upset (instead of just sitting in the class, getting more worked up), and we stopped on the way home to get some things for her prize box, which she was excited about. I am hoping if we go over it enough, she will be able to self regulate better, and we can avoid some bigger behavior issues.
It's still hard to see her struggle. It still stinks to see the other kids having a great time, and be the only one talking her kid off a ledge. Sometimes, even in a place like this, a place for kids like Katie, I feel alone. Like she sticks out, even among other kids with Autism.
However, I know that is for me to get over. I have to accept that if we do something geared towards kids with Autism, I should be able relax and not feel judged. I know it's probably all in my head, but it's still a struggle. My hope is as the weeks go on, I'll start to feel more comfortable. Because, if I am feeling guilty, that sends a message that she is not OK.
And she very much is.
Jen is the mom of two great kiddos, Katie, who is 8, and Ben, who is 6. She blogs at Still Looking Up, and you can follow her on Twitter @JenTroester.