Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Zoos and Tutus

Recently I was reminded of the golden dreams and blissful fantasies I entertained about my daughter in the magical world of gymnastics and/or ballet. I was so impatient for her to actually be born and grow old enough to participate. Visions of practice, rehearsals, and costumes delighted me as did the fanfare and fellowship I'd imagined with other 'ballet' moms. My aspirations swirled with ribbons and glitter, adorable little leotards, and bouncy-cute tutus. 

Then they swirled right down the toilet to their death, and I was harshly left to grieve my unrealized and then shattered plans. It really hurt. It was evident from our attempts at Mommy and Me tumbling class that my hopes were really in the 'best laid plans' category and we all know what happens to those!  Ashi was miserable, it was time to regroup and you might need to as well.

Not all of my wishes for her to be involved were wrong.  What I wanted was to give her opportunities that I never had.  But, I tried to give her opportunities that I wanted instead of figuring out which opportunities she wanted. 

Most parents make this mistake but neurotypical children have an easier time of communicating to their parents if they dislike a particular activity. For kids on the spectrum though, you'll have to be observant.  Here's some things that will let you know it's not the right time for a particular activity:

1.  Falling asleep on purpose.
2.  Not handling structure or structured teaching.
3.  Crying, whining, falling on the floor screaming.
4.  Becoming upset when asked to participate.
5.  Covering ears.
6.  Melting down.
7.  Upset on the drive to the activity.
8.  Fleeing.
9.  Not wanting to wear the outfit or uniform.

Taking young children to places with bright lights, loud music, big echo effect, certain smells, chalk dust in the air, structured teaching, expectation of coordination or strength the child may not have, and too many other students may be a super-bad idea, especially in those younger years.  If you're experiencing meltdowns or behavior from that list above, I would pack it in until your child is older. Here's some things you could do:

1.  Wait a few years. Dance class is perfectly fine to be started at age 8,  9, or 10. I don't know
      exactly when parents started expecting 2 year olds to be graceful and patient.
2.   Instead of a ballet class, how about a movement class with children younger than your own.
3.  Trying to find an instructor who will work one-on-one until your child grows into her senses
4.  If your child likes being there, but just wants to wander around and explore while class is going on,
     see if the instructor will accept this or if your child can be in a smaller class where it would be accept-
     able.  This has potential to help desensitize your child in an appropriate way. 
5.  Accept that your child may never want to participate in the things you have 'lined-up' for them,
     but, they probably already have a multitude of interests that you could do with them, instead. 

What we did was trade that tutu in for the zoo. I paid attention to what Ashi's true interests were and figured out how to have activities to center around those. I died to myself.  It wasn't about me anymore, it was about her.  She lined up animals, she researched animals, she was in love with animals. It was crystal clear, we needed to do things related to animals!

Now we visit our zoo about 3 times/week.  We know all of the animals by name and they know us. Ashi knows the zookeepers, grounds keepers, zoologists, volunteers; she even knows the cashiers at the cafe and gift shop. And, they know her too. I've learned  more about animals and conservation than I ever imagined and it lasts for a lifetime because it is never-ending.  Most importantly, our time together hasn't been about Ashi battling her own sensory issues to do something I want her to do. Instead we've developed an amazing, close bond by doing the things she wants to do. It's a beautiful relationship of love that will always keep us close and now that she's older, she's more willing to try things I enjoy too.

 Annie Eskeldson writes for parents of young autists.  She believes autism to be the generational cry of children to be at home with their Mommies and the best 'cure' is treating young autists the way everyone wants to be treated: with compassion and understanding, not by trying to change them. She has 2 young autists at home, provides all their therapy and homeschools.  She has 3 published children's books about autism that can be found at Ashi's Gift Website.  


  1. LOVE this post! The "fall asleep on purpose" made me laugh. Not because I think you're wrong, but I can imagine how many kids do that!

    We have done something similar with our local museum. We have only one car, so we don't get there as often as I'd like, but I highly recommend finding a place you and your child(ren) can grow to love and call home away from home!

    1. Awesome Jenny! Falling asleep on purpose is actually a gift from God given to infants. They have the natural ability to fall asleep on purpose if in an undesired situation. This ability usually goes away - like so many of those baby instincts, but for some reason, Ashi maintained this ability until just after the age of 4. It was truly remarkable!!

      Awesome about the Museum!! That is another one of our favorite places too, but for another post....

      Love ya!! And congrats on the magazine - I love it!

  2. As usual, you are spot on Annie :)

  3. Wonderful post and so many great points!

  4. You forgot to add that you just might meet a new friend wandering around near the tiger cage... other than that, a really great post! :)

    1. lol!!! Andria ~ love you, gal! Always there to add the laughter!! But yes, very true!! If you are a homeschooler and hang out at the zoo during 'school hours' you'll most likely find other homeschoolers there!! Ashi and Andria's daughter have really hit it off well. Fabulous family!!

  5. Pamela's autism definitely caused many "death to self" moments for me. And, from the ashes, a beautiful life was born for our family. Our friendships are fewer, but more freer and more nurturing. We haven't kept up with the Jones, but we have kept up with the Monets, the van Goghs, the Mozarts, and the Bachs. We cannot compete with lifestyles of the rich and famous, but we do enjoy our outdoor life and getting to know all the things that live at the wildlife refuge near our house. Our daughter is not a ballet dancer or a beauty pageant queen, but she is an artist, something my limited mind could not imagine 25 years ago!