Since Little L's birth, I have found being a parent to be incredibly difficult and intense. Often, I attributed this to my age (I was of "advanced maternal age" when Little L was conceived, according to my doctors) and physical conditioning (read: out of shape). I figured that, since everyone talks about how difficult the parenting journey is, my experiences were very similar to those of other moms and dads with young kids. Parenting is hard for everyone, right?
However, over time, I began to realize that our experiences as a mom and dad were not quite like those of other parents. There were certain idiosyncrasies in our kid's behaviour and preferences that we had to navigate that seemed distinctly different and atypical to that of others her age. In fact, a lot of these other kids didn't seem to have quite as many little "quirks" to be worked around, period, and it was in navigating and accommodating for these needs that had Hubbs and I exhausted by the end of each day. Because Little L was still young, however, we could never really differentiate between what was still considered developmentally-appropriate from that which was highly unusual; she was just a needier kid, as far as we could tell. Our choice to parent with attachment in mind simply it was a harder road, we reasoned.
When we started preschool this year, having other age cohorts to compare Little L with created a stark comparison for us, and what we once considered little quirks now grew into bigger concerns. Some were the direct result of her attending school in a new environment with new little people; others the product of age and increased awareness and ability. Regardless, Little L was having a hard time. We didn't quite understand what it all meant, and we still don't, but we have since begun the process of enlisting the support of child development experts and health professionals to provide us with some clarity, and Little L with some extra tools, to help manage her big behaviours and even bigger feelings about her world.
We once thought that Little L was just a highly sensitive child. We now think that she may be neurologically-wired to be hyper-sensitive and hypo-sensitive to certain sounds and sights and sensations, and that the influx of stimuli from the world around her overwhelms her brain and body to the point of causing her anxiety; one possible explanation is a "sensory-processing disorder," although we're still trying to determine if this is definitely the case.
Little L is also very bright, and while we haven't yet begun the process of having her tested for giftedness (a costly procedure that requires a psycho-educational assessment), we are inclined to believe that she is at the very least, above-average in her ability to grasp concepts and ideas and patterns. Both Hubbs and I were assigned gifted labels in our early years, and at 4 years and 3 months, Little L is no wayward apple from our roots either; she is already reading nearly all of the high-frequency sight words out there, and can decode new/unfamiliar books mostly independently, with understanding. She can be quite logical in her comprehension, if not a bit literal. We suspect that if she is indeed gifted, that her social anxieties may also be rooted in the discrepancies between her intellectual development and her emotional/social development. There is also a significant correlation between the diagnoses of SPD and giftedness, which inclines us to believe that these are the things we're facing. Again, it's yet to be determined, but that's the direction we are leaning at the moment.
Regardless of the labels or diagnoses, however, what we do know is this: my daughter is an exceptional girl with an exceptional experience of her world. School (and life) for her feels very different than it does for most other typical-functioning kids. She is probably never going to have a "normal" experience at school; she may very well require certain adaptations and modifications, including an individualized educational program, to help her succeed in a traditional classroom environment. We are coming to terms with the likelihood that Little L will probably have to work harder than everyone else in order to survive and thrive at school, because these types of exceptional traits are considered a "hidden disability;' while she may look like everyone else her age, she will need to work through physical/mental/neurological challenges that aren't apparent to the naked eye. For this reason, I am so grateful that she is enrolled in a school that is willing to work with alternative learners and has a capable and loving staff of educational support team members. I know that the teachers and staff are willing to work collaboratively with parents and other care professionals to ensure that my girl has a positive learning experience, which is every parent's dream.
I share this with you because I seek understanding and tolerance and the willingness of my audience, and my friends and family, to be patient with us and with Little L. While she may receive some formal diagnoses in the future, she is certainly not defined by them. She is still the same sassy, funny, thoughtful and happy little girl that I've been blogging about for the past four years, and I hope and pray that the spunk and sparkle in her eyes is not snuffed out by a difficult experience in school or in our world. Our job as parents will be to help her find the best ways to cope, to manage, and to thrive in a world that might just be too much or not enough for her biological wiring. As a society, we are also stronger when we learn to find ways to include exceptional, atypical people into the mainstream, and to see them not for what they struggle with, but what they are capable of. May we as humankind keep aspiring to that noble goal, and find the exceptional in all of us.