Last week Harper had her first full ballet class. I say first full class because she tried it a couple of years ago but slipped over on the floor before class started and was so outraged that it happened she declared that dancing was stupid and she no longer wanted anything to do with it. But she has watched Willow dance and has actually really wanted to have a go.
So over the Christmas break we sorted out a uniform (yay for a bigger sister and hand me downs) and some shoes, and I had to actually practice doing ballet buns because Willow’s short hair has let me off that particular hook the whole time.
The day came and Harps was excited and nervous. She had had 2 meltdowns over trivial things, and on the way in the was yelling random phrases in her own language like “shagga da!” “balala bee!”. She skipped and jerked and flopped her body around like spaghetti.
And then the music started and she joined in. I held my breath for her because I knew how much she wanted to be a part of the class. About 20 minutes in it was clear that she was going to do it and that she was enjoying herself.
And I excused myself and went to the toilets and had a little cry. Mostly because I was so proud of her. But also because knowing that it is difficult for my baby to join in on things that she is keen to do and that are fun sometimes gets to me. It hurts to watch her struggle.
Two days after her first dance class Harper and I went to the children’s hospital to have the appointment and meeting we have been waiting a long while for. Going in I had a bunch of things swirling around my head. Was I doing the right thing by seeking a diagnosis? Maybe I’m overreacting? Surely a kid can just be a quirky kid without needing a doctor?
Then we discussed the many forms I had filled out. Pulling her hair out in chunks, biting herself, chewing her clothes, being so scared of certain brands of hand dryers that she would rather wet her pants than use the toilet, having zero understanding of why a new child at the home ed group would want to talk to her. And the list went on. I watched Harper with the other specialists. They were trying to draw her into a conversation about something she is currently obsessed about, and she wanted to. But she couldn’t figure out how to interact with these adults to get there.
I started to feel sick.
The diagnosis that we have been told was likely, all the fears I had about the reality of it all were approaching. And I wasn’t sure I wanted to hear it.
Later in the day we went back to a conference room and the three specialists sat me down on a comfy couch. The softly spoken psych asked me what I thought. I replied that maybe she was just an anxious kid, an introvert. That clearly she was clever and quirky and maybe she might come in right at the edge of the spectrum. That there had been no biting or hiding or hair chunk pulling out in a while so maybe she was getting better.
The paediatrician smiled and said
“She actually failed every one of the social and empathy tests. She had trouble using her imagination and she mimicked the facial expressions of the doctors to try and fit in. Harper is a delightful, curious and a highly intelligent child. And she also, without question, firmly fits into an Autism Spectrum diagnosis. Specifically Asperger’s disorder.”
I knew. We have “known” since she was little.
But to hear it out loud and be handed the official form with it all spelled out in black ink was like a punch in the chest.
I cried. I listened. I asked questions. We made plans.
While all this went on I was also watching Harper. She was making a lego house out of the bricks the doctor had giver her. She spent a lot of time organizing the lego before she started to build and then when she did, the house followed a clear, colour coded pattern. But it was an amazing structure that she was enjoying building.
And I knew it wasn’t all bad.
My Harper is not going to breeze through many of the challenges that life brings. Hell, some days she can’t even breeze through that fact that her Groot tee shirt is in the wash.
But we don’t know our girl any other way and we love her.
The diagnosis may be official, but it’s not all bad. It just is.
Harper has been the same this whole time.
And now we can gather some new tools to help.