In my last post, I touched on the fact that Lyla mentioned she was autistic. I thought it was worth sharing how and why we told her about her autism.
Encouraged by a wonderful child psychologist who'd been helping me with ideas on Lyla's challenging behaviour, I took the decision to tell her about her autism. It had become clear in my discussions with he psychologist that Lyla was a lot cleverer than her language skills made her appear and she was outwitting a lot of the behavioural strategies that we were putting into place.
To compound things, she was attending a failing school in a rough part of Inner London, where she was put in the bottom set and used to get taken out of class 'with the idiot group, because I'm a stupid girl'. Because she couldn't play appropriately with children her age, she joined the 'Monster Gang' at school and would come home every night and hit, headbutt & kick me because she had to 'practice her fighting'. She was an extremely confused little girl and her self-esteem was at an all time low.
She knew that she was different and was finding negative reasons to explain it to herself. So, I thought she'd feel better if she knew the real reason why she found life hard and stopped blaming her poor self. She had autism whether we chose to acknowledge it or not. I didn't want to present it in a doomy, scary way, (that might be related to a therapist in years to come: 'Son- you have Autism'), so I tried to find the most positive way to tell her. .
I came across the book 'I am Utterly Unique' by Elaine Marie Larrson. It's a picture book with an A-Z of all the cool things about children with autism. I liked the explanations because they were things which Lyla could actually relate to and were cheerfully thought-out. For instance, the letter H, 'I am a Happy Helper': teachers of autistic children know that they love to be given a job to do and this can be a good way to integrate them into the class. Other letters I particularly like are G, for 'genuinely goodhearted', O ' I have an Original Outlook' and T 'I Tell the Truth'.
After we told Lyla about her autism (when she was 5), she became noticeably more relaxed and cooperative. It seemed to have answered the questions that were going round in her mind. It's by no means cured her challenging behaviour (although moving to a lovely new school has helped a lot with that) but it's a start. Now she knows, it's not like there's a big secret that we're going to have to tell her about one dreadful day. It's just part of her and our lives. Lyla feels more understood by us too and reading the book together, I can't help but feel a stab of maternal pride at what a wonderful utterly unique girl I have cuddled in beside me.