This afternoon my 5 year old went into her room, sat on her bed and broke her heart. She wasn’t upset at not getting her own way or being told off, or because her brother had taken her toys yet again. She broke down in tears because she believes she is a failure. At just 5 years old. How does a mother deal with that?
How do I balance my daughters tender self esteem and mental heath with the need to push her development on and challenge her?
Naomi has autism spectrum disorder. She is neither on the severe end of the spectrum or the high functioning end. Compared to her twin brother (severe asd non verbal) she is high functioning but in reality her autism impacts on her a huge amount. But she does not have learning difficulties and she has a good grasp of language (though a very literal thinker). She does have co-ordination difficulties and communication challenges and socially struggles a huge amount. But she doesn’t need to hear this.
Hearing her cry today, sitting with her and talking to her, I realised that so much needs to change. This little girl needs to feel secure, loved, accepted and believe in herself. She needs encouragement, rewards and a sense of achievement.
She watches while her brother, with all his profound needs, receives certificates at school for ‘star of the week’ for something she could have done three years before. But being in mainstream nursery with over 40 other children each session she just can’t compete. She listens while we talk to professional after professional about the concerns we have regarding her development. And this is going into her spirit.
It never has sat well with me that we take the children with us to see paediatricians, hospital doctors, educational psychologists, speech and language therapists, and many others. While I understand that these people clearly need to see my children, I find it concerning that little ears are hearing adults talk about them like they are not there, and in a way that only seems to address their difficulties and struggles. How would I feel if It was me being talked about? Hearing phrases like ‘struggling with toilet training’, ‘not able to make friends’, ‘still not talking to others’, ‘still not able to dress herself’. While professionals need to hear these things to be able to help it has to be affecting the child’s self esteem.
And it doesn’t just happen in clinic appointments. This week alone a health visitor and disability social worker have visited us at home. And as much as I try to schedule this while the children are out, they either stay until they come home or arrive so late the children are already here. It makes talking very difficult as this is the children’s home being invaded. And once again we are expected to discuss our concerns while having them in the room. For my son this isn’t a major issue as his understanding and comprehension is so poor. But he does hear his name getting mentioned and I am sure he senses he is being talked about. And no amount of distraction takes away from the fact my daughter knows we are talking about her.
And she has had enough.
She has had enough of us discussing how after almost 2 weeks of the nursery putting her in pants she has yet to manage to do anything in the toilet.
She has had enough of us telling people she struggles to dress herself and use cutlery and put on her own coat and the many other self help skills a five year old should be achieving.
She has had enough of the pressure to carry out tasks effectively just because she has been given a visual schedule.
She has had enough of hearing she has to be a ‘big girl’ because she is going to ‘big school’ soon.
It is all too much for a 5 year old.
I was told today that no matter how upset she gets, no matter how strong willed against something she is or the fact she seems to not be able to do something I still need to push her. The fact she is upset is due to her controlling me and not being willing to move on with her development.
But there is upset at not being able to achieve like you want to be able to and then there is damaging a child’s mental health.
I wish that professional could have been here today. To hear my daughter tell me how sad she is. To see the damage it does to a child to push them beyond what they truly are capable of doing. To hear my daughter cry.
I’m not entirely sure how we move on from here. We have more appointments next week where yet again we need to discuss some of our concerns about her. And she has to be there. But I am determined to protect this fragile butterfly from any more damage. I refuse to let professionals push her beyond what she can achieve and thus make her feel like a failure. I am determined to make her feel loved, cherished and to have a sense of achievement like her brother. She is beautiful, clever, funny, caring and sensitive. And my mission is to get her to believe this. And to get the professionals to see how talking about our children in front of them is not helpful to their self esteem or mental health.
Today I opened my eyes.
Today I heard my daughters heart.
Today I heard my daughter cry.