Thirteen Going On Eight - Trying to Reconcile My Daughter's Disabilities

Cheney Meaghan Giordano

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My daughter will be turning thirteen next week, but some days it feels more like she will be turning eight.

She’s on the autism spectrum and is Intellectually Disabled, so she is much less mature than other kids her age, and the older she gets, the more it shows.

While I bet some parents are fighting with their thirteen-year-old girls about not talking to boys over texts, I’m struggling to convince my daughter that she doesn’t (and probably shouldn’t) still need to carry a stuffed animal with her wherever she goes.

As the months pass and she grows, literally, closer to puberty, budding in more ways than one, it’s hard to reconcile that this girl who is almost as tall as me still begs to cuddle on the couch for hours every night, personal space not being a thing she needs or even wants.

The days go by, the years go on, but she remains the same.

I don’t know how to treat my child.

I know, if it sounds like I’m admitting to being an inept parent, I probably am, but that is the truth:

I don’t know how to treat my child.

Do I treat her like the almost thirteen-year-old she is, or do I treat her like the eight-year-old she behaves and acts like?

No one has ever had an answer for me.

Not her doctors, her therapists, MY therapists, no one.

No one that you would think would have some advice for me does.

I get a lot of shrugs and sympathetic looks, but no help or advice when it comes to reconciling how I treat a child that acts like two different ages every day, sometimes in the span of a few minutes.

My child is a mystery, and she always has been.

I was reminded of this again last week when I took her to a new doctor, hoping to get her on medication for the first time to treat her ADHD.

My daughter is a picker and a biter on top of everything else, and at the end of the two-hour intake session with the new doctor, she looked stumped.

“There’s a new medicine I just heard about at a conference that works great on pickers and biters who are on the spectrum, but it’s hard to tell whether this is spectrummy behavior or if it has to do with her other disabilities.”

Isn’t it, though?

Autism itself is a puzzle, a spectrum.

Everyone who is on the spectrum is different, and there is no one way you can classify someone with autism, which is what makes it so hard to pin down and treat.

“Will the meds help with the hand flapping, too?” I asked, because that certainly doesn’t help a thirteen-year-old make new friends.

More shrugs.

More sympathetic smiles.

More waiting to see if this doctor among what feels like hundreds of doctors in her lifetime will be able to offer us some kind of real help and answers.

Meanwhile, I keep worrying.

I worry that I am doing my daughter a disservice by not treating her like a tween, for not doing more to encourage her to act her age.

On the other hand, taking away her precious stuffed animals that she won’t leave the house without seems like it would be downright cruel and unusual punishment for her.

When she talks back to me with the attitude of a seventeen-year-old who just snuck back in a window, do I punish her for it?

I don’t, usually, because within a few minutes she’s already forgotten what she’s done wrong, and then the punishment seems silly — a constant reminder of something she probably couldn’t even control doing.

We all lash out — how can I blame her for being frustrated with her life?

But on the other hand, how can I keep putting up with all the talking back, and complete lack of respect I get as a parent?

Well, I lower my expectations.

I certainly don’t expect respect, do any parents?

I wouldn’t know.

I mostly just hope for listening and being nice.

I mostly hope that when we go out in public and she doesn’t get her way that there won’t be any epic meltdowns that only spoiled eight-year-olds can throw.

I mostly hope that eventually, she will learn the importance of personal space, not just with me but with the strangers she sidles up to and talks with, often making them uncomfortable.

I mostly hope that eventually, one day I will find a person who can tell me what to do, how to treat her the way she needs and deserves to be treated.

In the meantime, I am going to keep loving her and doing everything I can to give her a happy life with what we’ve got.

It isn’t much, but as long as you’ve got love, it’s something.

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I write about parenting, family, relationships, education, disability, mental health, and a whole lot about writing.

Salem, CT
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