|Jaimie (age 4) with her Grams.|
Perhaps you are feeling at a loss at how to relate to these wonderful kids or don't understand why they act the way they do at times. Maybe you're feeling a little intimidated because whenever you've tried connecting, you feel that the child withdraws from you or doesn't seem to engage with you. Or maybe you just don't feel you understand the child's condition enough to feel comfortable. If you can relate to any of these situations, you aren't alone. Trust me.
I may not be able to take the pain from the rejection you might feel when you aren't able to interact with the 'sensational' kid in your life. What I can do today is shine a bit of hope in your own situation by sharing a snippet from our own journey. Jaimie gave her Grams a gift this past weekend more precious than anything a store might offer and it happened because Grams was patient, took the time to learn about her grandchild's needs and how those needs affected both the child as well as her ability to relate to others. It's all about love, education and understanding. (Grams will be included in the sequel to our Not Just Spirited journey. I think many others could learn from her.) Enjoy!
Grams came up for a visit this past weekend. Grams is Steve's mom and she only gets to come up two or three times a year to visit her grandchildren. Needless to say, that her visits are very special. But in the earlier days of our 'sensational' journey, they were a huge source of anxiety and stress.
Now, Grams isn't a stressful person on her own. She doesn't blow in here each visit trying to change or 'fix' things. She doesn't critique my cooking, housecleaning abilities or parenting. In fact, she's the complete opposite of what a stereotypical MIL is supposed to be like. Yes, we butted heads a few times when I'd first had Jaimie but that was only because Jaimie was the first grandchild on either side and Grams was beside herself with excitement. I 'got' that.
Bearing that in mind, imagine how much it would hurt to be through-the-top thrilled about having a grandchild only to come visit her and be rejected. Just like what we'd gone through with her dad, Jaimie refused to have anything to do with her Grams. Visits in the early days were spent with Jaimie clinging to my legs, screaming. And, of course, Jaimie would wake up hourly from the anxiety of knowing when she got up, that stranger would be in her house again. It was a combination of change in routine, a different source of sensory stimulation and another person she had to get used to. I'll bet that had to be excruciating for Grams. But she never gave up.
As time went on and we added Jordy to the mix, things got a bit better in that Grams was at least able to interact with one of her grandchildren. Once we figured out what was going on with Jaimie, and we educated ourselves, I was able to educate Grams at the same time. What I most admired about her was that she never gave up. She would try interacting with Jaimie every time she came up. She brought her books and crafty-like things (as Jaimie was never into toys) that she could interact with Jaimie through. I thought that was so amazing. She wasn't just trying to understand SPD, she was trying to understand Jaimie as the little girl she was who just happened to be living with SPD and Spectrum issues. She never treated her as 'different' or was scared off by Jaimie's reactions but figured out what that middle ground was where she could create that grandmother/granddaughter bond with Jaimie that came so easily with the other kids. And it paid off.
Jaimie started looking forward to Grams' visits. Yes, there is still anxiety and stress from having an extra person around or the change in routine but it's better. Alot of it probably has to do with the fact that Jaimie is now able to self-regulate most of the time and can verbalize her feelings/needs alot better. But much of it has to do with Grams' unconditional love, patience and willingness to learn and understand.
This visit was monumental for a few reasons. But the most significant thing happened just before Grams left. Now you all know that Jaimie's highly sensitive tactile system often prevents her from getting close to people--hugging and other forms of physical contact are a 'NO WAY' for her. She has never been able to give Grams' anything but a High Five when saying hello, goodbye or see you tomorrow when we take her back to her hotel each night. This time when Grams was collecting hugs and goodbye presents the other kids' had made for her, she got to Jaimie and held her hand up to get her traditional goodbye high five. Imagine everyone's surprise when Jaimie actually HUGGED her!
I wish I'd had my camera to mark that day. She still doesn't even hug her Daddy or tell him she loves him. The only people she gives true hugs to besides me are her BFF Maddie and her wonderful teacher, Mrs. Baulkham. I'm sure Grams is back in Winnipeg telling everyone about the precious gift she'd gotten. It may not happen again next time but...it happened. The door has been opened for more possibilities.
So, that's my message to other family members and friends in the same position Grams. Keep doing what you're doing. Keep your heart open, your mind working on new ways to connect, continue to educate yourself not only on the child's form of her condition but her specific form of it and never give up. The child may not be able to tell you this but she really does want to connect; she just needs time to feel safe doing so. Don't try changing her, just work within her safe boundaries and branch out from there.
Grams would tell you the patience and effort is well worth the wait.