Curtis had to work all day yesterday, so on the spur of the moment I decided to take the kids and Jenny's boyfriend to Sea World. The season pass was the same amount as a day pass so we got that and will try to make it down there this summer a few times. I forgot that it's a nearly 2-hour drive! Ugh! But the kids were great on the way there and we pretty excited. We rarely go anywhere except our local zoo (which has some monkeys and a couple of lions) or the nature center.
We got a double stroller right off since Anna fatigues so quickly and Dominic runs off. Jenny and Chris looked so cute, I could almost picture them with their own family (hopefully not for a long time, lol!).
Right behind us was an area for those with disabilities and shortly a girl in a wheelchair with her mom and aunt (?) sat behind us. Anna has a bit of an obsession with wheelchairs and kiddos who ride in them. Soon the questions started... "Mommy, why does she look like that? What's her name? Why is she in a wheelchair?" I said to her, "Anna, why don't you ask her?" So Anna turns around fully and asks, "What's your name?" to the girl. She was not able to respond, she had a trach and appeared to be fairly medically complicated. So I said to the mom, "This is Anna. She would like to know your daughter's name," to which she responded, "This is Caitlyn." Anna starts talking to Caitlyn while I explain to her mom that Anna has autism and may ask some inappropriate or uncomfortable questions. This mom and I made eye contact, and in those fleeting seconds, a lifetime of special needs appointments, heartaches, testing, therapy, worries, and hope passed between us. There is a special bond among mothers who care for children with special needs and it only takes a moment to establish that connection. I also explained that we are continually working on Anna's filters... what is socially appropriate and all that.
The mom responded with a very profound statement:
"YOU are her filter."
I've thought about that a dozen times since then. It's so true. I am Anna's filter. I interpret the world for her, I recognize when sounds will be too loud, when a crying child will set off a meltdown, when she is about to lash out in anger and hurt someone. I recognize how to shift those moments into a silly song to distract her or to take a walk to clear her head. I am teaching her to recognize those clues so that she can take care of herself too.
The mom and I made small talk; they lived locally and came quite often to Sea World. The mom said that Caitlyn seems to like the Shamu show, that the music and lights sparkling on the water seem to get her attention. She said, "You know, I can't really know how much she understands but she seems happy here." I thought about how hard it would be to not know what your child was really feeling or understanding.
Anna LOVED the Shamu show, as did Dominic and Jenny (Chris enjoyed it too!).
Look at the pure excitement on her face!
I've been thinking about Caitlyn's mom. She had such a peaceful manner about her; when she shared why they come to the Shamu show, there was no sadness or wistfulness, just truth. I feel that I sometimes over-explain Anna, that it feels like I'm making excuses for her or diminishing her being by labeling her. I wish I could just let her BE. I have gotten better about not noticing other people noticing her and I am a good filter for her. But I have a ways to go to get to true acceptance.