When Hannah was around 3 – 4 years old, we were told that she had autism. This was, of course, a shock, but with early intervention and lots of encouragement she progressed nicely, at least educationally. She spent some time in the Resource Classroom, but by the time she reached the 5th and 6th grades this was minimal, and this year they took her out of the IEP program completely – she didn’t need it.
Where Hannah’s autism has had the most impact is on her social life. She has none. Not that this is a bad thing: she prefers to be by herself, and she’s very defensive about her personal space, so we’ve never pushed her to become involved in anything that she didn’t like. We’ve never tried to force her to make friends, but we’ve encouraged her to be friendly with her peers so that they would be friendly back to her. This has worked, for the most part. It was especially helpful when, back in elementary school, the school had an autism specialist come in and talk to Hannah’s classmates, explaining why Hannah was the way she was. Her classmates were wonderful and kinda-sorta adopted her as the class mascot. They all watched out for her and helped her, which made things easier for everyone.
Now, though, Hannah is beginning to show signs of opening up and becoming more social. First off, she wants to actually engage in conversations by beginning them. She’s always participated in conversations when someone else started them, but she’s never been the instigator. But she tells me that there are people she wants to talk to and I’m trying to encourage her the best I can. Second, Hannah auditioned for a vocal solo for an upcoming concert, and she won! Hannah has never shown an interest in volunteering to be the center of attention, but now that she has we’re behind her all the way. I wish, however, she’d have planned it a little better. The situation went down like this: (Wednesday May 2nd, about 40 minutes before I needed to leave for my art class)
Hannah: Mom, I want to audition for a solo in the vocal concert.
Me: Which concert?
Hannah: The one next Monday (the 7th)
Me: When’s auditions?
Hannah: Tomorrow from noon to 12:30
Me: What do you want to sing?
Hannah: I don’t know – do you know a song I can learn?
Me: (after a momentary panic) Do you really want to do this? Isn’t this kind of last minute?
Me: (deep breath) OK.
I go fetch my autoharp, then go to the bookcase and pull out a songbook that was written and arranged for dulcimer and autoharp players. We start thumbing through it, looking for something I know that I can teach Hannah in a hurry…
Me: How about this one? (It’s Red River Valley)
Hannah: How does it go?
I pick up my autoharp and start strumming and singing. Soon, Hannah starts singing along. I look at the clock. I need to leave in 10 minutes to be on time, and I still haven’t eaten.
Hannah: Are you going to help me learn this?
Me: Hannah, I need to leave for my class! And I still haven’t eaten! I’m going to be late as it is…Wait! I know! Go to the DVD shelves and get the little crate with the Riders In The Sky CD’s in it.
Hannah returns with the crate. I pull out the Cowboy Songs CD, and Hannah puts it in the player. I show her how to play track 8 over and over and over and so forth, so she can practice singing Red River Valley with Ranger Doug. She sits down by the CD player and starts practicing. I go to class, leaving Carl to coach Hannah on her song…..
When I got home, Carl told me that Hannah was doing very well with the song by the time she went to bed. The next morning, we can hear Hannah singing the song in the shower (she always sings in the shower) and she actually sounded pretty good. I sent the book to school with her, and viola! she wins a solo spot in the concert. Quite an achievement for a child who we thought might never even speak. Slowly, gently, cautiously, Hannah is beginning to blossom. I suppose talking to boys will be next.