Pkin has had various odd reactions to all sorts of stimuli since we first adopted her in China a few days shy of 8 months old. There were a couple times where she threw up at a busy restaurant. We thought she was just a baby and babies throw up sometimes. She also did this thing we called “Super Baby” where she stretched both arms out above her and tensed up every muscle in her body. We thought it was cute.
As she got older, she always wanted to touch and smell everything she walked past. She screamed when the sun shined in her eyes in the car. She covered her ears and froze when it was time for a fire drill at her preschool. We were first-time parents and we thought this was all just part of what children did as they adjusted to their world. Plus, she had been institutionalized and every adoptive parent has been told numerous times about all the potential issues that can arise as a result.
Pkin was 3 when we first sought out a doctor for a diagnosis. Nothing had really changed in her behavior or our understanding of it at that point. I just happened across a posting on a listserv for parents who have adopted from China that indicated that many of the children from her orphanage had been diagnosed with a syndrome related to how they brought together and used sensory information. We figured, “Hey! Let’s talk to her doctor. Worst case we can do a better job of helping her because we know what’s up.”
She was diagnosed with probable SPD by her pediatrician and referred to an occupational therapist who confirmed the diagnosis. For more than a year we went to weekly OT visits and, for several months, group classes as well. We learned about how to best parent her, what she might be experiencing, and how we could help her. But, eventually, the OT goals were met and the OT told us she didn’t think she could do anything more — Pkin had achieved what she needed to. She was in Kindergarten at this point. She no longer froze when the fire alarm went off, though the teacher did make sure she was right next to her when they were scheduled. She no longer screamed when the sun shined in her eyes (well, most of the time). She still loved to smell and touch things, she just did it in more appropriate ways. And she still loved to swing and jump in (mostly) safe ways like she learned in OT.
For the past two years, we’ve worked with her on using words to explain what she’s needing or wanting at any given time. She was diagnosed with High-Functioning Autism earlier this year, so we’ve been adding additional interventions and processes to our lives since then. Some she resists and some she embraces, but we keep marching forward. We are so pleased every time she is able to slow herself down or tell us what she needs or when we see something she learned in one group or another being actively and successfully used.
Today was just such a day. After spending much of her time alone at her request, she said to me from across the room, “I’m getting older and I don’t love you as much anymore.” I know she didn’t mean it to be a hurtful comment, and part of me was proud of her for being able to articulate what is such a complex idea. I have studied and taught about childhood for years. I know she is of the age, a few months over 8, where it is normal for a child to have a shift in how they feel about their parents (especially the parent of the same sex). As much as I may criticize Freud in my own work, he does seem to have hit on some possible truths.
Yet, here I sit — hours after she made the comment — knowing that I am both proud of how much she has accomplished already and mourning for what seems to be the beginning of a shift in our relationship. No longer am I the be all and end all of her life. No longer can I do no wrong. I want to encourage her expression, her trust in us to tell us how she is feeling, to explain that what she is feeling is normal, but is more that she is loving me differently than not as much, and to reassure her that I will always love her no matter what and more and more each day.
And even so, I sometimes miss the little girl who ran to me when the sound was too much, who snuggled up close when the world was too much, and who needed mommy for everything.