Whoopsy, it’s been seven months since my last diary extract but, as usual, it feels like an eyeblink. All this time Eva’s school has been making a fantastic effort, with 20 hours a week one-to-one support, a social group to teach her the basics of interaction, strategies to help her engage other children at playtime, and always plenty of lines for her to say in stage productions. Where they could easily have sidelined her, they’ve almost made her a focal point, and she’s blossomed.
Her reading is phenomenal, although her decoding (i.e. her ability to sound out complex words) is understandably miles ahead of her actual comprehension, particularly with regards to non-fiction. She will sit for hours devouring science tomes, but we had to hide the medical dictionary when she asked “Mummy? What’s Oral Thrush?”
It’s in reading fiction, though, that she’s demonstrated a vital skill for the future, in that, whenever she reads aloud, she always tries to read with expression (e.g. when a character’s angry she’ll put on an angry voice, etc.) She may not understand the emotion, but she is trying to act it, which is why her involvement in school plays is so pivotal. Allowing her to role-play has kickstarted what will become the increasingly crucial process of evaluating & replicating socially correct language. Drama is helping her to understand that she can synthesise what she can’t feel.
What she can feel is pretty similar to most kids anyway. If she doesn’t get what she wants, she kicks off, while her communication veers from the endearingly idiosyncratic (based largely around her toy dogs – Coco & Chico) to the plumb rude (“go away or die” remains her default phrase for anybody incurring her displeasure.) Most of the negative, however, is rooted in her frustration with communication. Her vocabulary may be massive, but she struggles to adapt it to everyday social needs. Sentences that already begin fairly wide of the mark subject-wise will wander off into “ah…um…ah….” territory pretty quickly, and any attempt to interrupt her flow – even with positive suggestions – provokes a furiously rude torrent that’s a one-way-ticket to Time Out corner.
It’s a tricky balance to strike, refusing to tolerate rudeness from a girl who’s struggling to advance her language beyond it, but I think it’s working. This week she showed genuine contrition over an incident – gasp! - and actively encouraged kid brother Tomas to be good rather than mischievous (she still finds mischief the most hilarious thing in the world, unfortunately.) Luckily, kid bro is probably as much her teacher as we are. She learns so much from him, in terms of how he interacts with us and vice versa. And, as a family, we’re all affectionately amused by his foibles, like his tearfully enraged refusal to brook any bastardisation of nursery rhymes (“…and Incy Wincy Tomas climbed up the water spout” – “No! It’s NOT Incy Wincy Tomas! It’s Incy Wincy SPIDER!”)
Whilst undoubtedly a popular girl – most of the school knows her name and many older children stop her to say hello in the playground - Eva hasn’t got what you’d call a regular friend. We’ve invited plenty of schoolmates back to our house over the last year and they’re all happy to come play, but they’ve yet to ask her back. I don’t blame the kids for that, or their parents – all of whom are good friends who want to help Eva as much as they can, but what are they supposed to do if their kids don’t want to return Eva’s invitation? They can’t force them to want her around, particularly as she rarely behaves like best friend material.
I think her class have a great affection for Eva. When they all went on a day trip and she actually used a hand dryer for the first time, they were amazed and heart-warmingly pleased for her, telling their mums & dads ”Eva’s used a hand dryer! Well done Eva!” but, on a one-to-one basis, I’m not sure they know what to do with her. I wouldn’t, at six. It would take a child of exceptional maturity & patience to see beyond Eva’s eccentricities, and Eva herself isn’t yet capable of making that connection, those little sacrifices & empathies that friendships need to thrive - though she dearly wants to; she sees familiar faces playing in the street and she wants to join them so much – her bottom lip starts quivering if she can’t, and when she can leap into a larger group her joy is an unconfined wonder. She’ll be the focus for a brief while but then, when she’s exhausted her communication options, she’ll disengage, often playing alone before eventually hooking up with a totally unknown child who, for just that moment of play, becomes her ‘new best friend’ (“What was her name Eva?” “Oh it was her over there. The girl in the pink.”)
It’s a difficult process to watch – her reaching out then having to withdraw. But at least she reaches out again. At least she keeps trying. Sometimes I find myself wishing she wasn’t in mainstream, or that her impairment were more visible – anything to better clarify her ‘oddness’ to her peers, but maybe that’s because I”m hyper-aware that she doesn’t yet know she’s different. Perhaps the penny will drop soon enough re: friendships and the reasons why she finds them so difficult to form & maintain, but I don’t want it to drop quite yet.
Her birthday’s coming up and I’m sure she’ll have a great day she’ll always remember, with all her friends and for all the reasons I still remember my sixth: for the cake, for the presents, and for the Love. Eva can’t be ignorant of her condition all her life. One day I’ll have to see her face when that blissful bubble of oblivion finally bursts, but I don’t want it to be so soon. I want her to stay this innocent, this truly happy, for as long as she can be.
Happy Birthday my darling!