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Relating to my “Grandma”

Ok…based on the title I’ve given this post and the picture I’ve attached, I’m sure a lot of you might be saying to yourself, “Wait a minute…I don’t see a ‘Grandma’ in this picture!  What does this picture have to do with a ‘Grandma’?”  That is indeed a legitimate point, but let me explain.  The picture I’ve attached to this post is a recent photo taken of my nieces and nephews (I believe it was from the first day of school for them this year).  The third kiddo from the left is my oldest niece, Nadia.  She turned the big 1-0 earlier this year, and ever since then I’ve told her that she’s really old (now that she’s double-digits in age)—and just recently I’ve been calling her “Grandma”.  At first, she didn’t really care all that much for being called a “Grandma”, but she has since warmed up to it and actually now fires back at me by calling me “Uncle Grandpa”! :)

So, I would say for about the past year or so, my Mom and I have talks with Nadia every so often to talk about how her life is going…mostly with the backdrop of autism in mind, but not always necessarily directly on the topic.  For those who don’t know, my Mom and Nadia have autism too.  With that said, whenever the three of us get together to talk, we call it an “AAA” club meeting (three autistic people)…and no one else can be in on our private autistic conversations! :)  The three of us can share things that a lot of those who don’t have autism wouldn’t understand, so it’s a good thing for Nadia to have an outlet on this topic.  Hearing what she has to say about what is going on in her life (both the good and the bad) obviously resonates with me quite a bit at times.  She is indeed leaps and bounds ahead of where I was at her age from a social point of view, but I still completely understand where she’s coming from as I’ve also struggled with some of the same issues that she has at this time.  There was one recent “AAA” meeting in particular a couple weeks ago that really struck me—and is actually what is providing the impetus for me making this post…

According to an evaluation of Nadia at her school, it was noted that her social skills/development wasn’t where it was supposed to be.  The person who evaluated Nadia (which I assume would be her teacher…but I could be wrong) specifically pointed out that she had a hard time interacting with her classmates in small-group settings.  From what I understand, she was fine interacting one-on-one with classmates that she knew well, but once she was placed in a small group where she didn’t know everybody, she was very hesitant to participate in the activity.  Speaking in front of a large group (i.e., the entire class) wasn’t a main focus of this evaluation, as obviously a lot of neurotypical kids (not just autistic kids) struggle with it.  Another item of note was that she wasn’t participating all that much in class (i.e., raising her hand if she knew an answer to a particular question asked by her teacher).  So with all this in mind, the three of us had an “AAA” meeting to talk about it, and some of what she revealed really hit home with me…

My Mom and I were curious about her hesitancy to participate both in the small-group setting and in raising her hand in class.  So I asked her specifically why she feels the way she does in those situations.  She answered with something along the lines of “I don’t know.”  I then asked her if it was because she was afraid that she would be wrong.  She answered that question with something like “No, not really.”  It was after that question when she brought up a situation that happened in class when she was working together with a classmate on a particular assignment/question (I don’t recall the specifics).  Basically what happened was that there was a difference in opinion between her and her classmate as to what the answer to this question was.  I’m pretty sure there really wasn’t any outward conflict or anything, but Nadia ended up going with her classmate’s answer—an answer which turned out to be wrong, while Nadia’s answer was the correct one.  It was this revelation that struck a chord with me as I completely know how she feels in those types of situations…

When I was going through school while having autism, I RARELY ever raised my hand/participated in class and I would much more likely than not give in to others given similar situations to what Nadia has experienced.  I didn’t really have the confidence to speak up in those situations for whatever reason—and I don’t know why in hindsight, which is why Nadia’s response to my questions really resonated with me.  At her age, I probably would have answered those same questions in a very similar fashion—especially considering that intellectually we were roughly the same.  It’s not that I didn’t know the answer to a particular question (more often than not, I did know the answer to the question…exactly the same sentiment that Nadia has), but I just didn’t have the confidence in myself to say anything.  It’s honestly hard to put into words WHY that was (again, which is the exact same sentiment that Nadia has).  Why do we feel self-conscious in those situations?  It’s honestly something that I still battle with at times, even with my social development in recent years.  I’m taking classes at Ivy Tech right now, and I am STILL hesitant to raise my hand and participate in class.

With all of this said, Nadia and I have become pretty close over the past couple years as she is now more fully understanding that I know what she’s going through in her struggles with autism.  As she is getting older and maturing, I feel as if there will be more moments of clarity for me in these kinds of situations—and I hope to continue to be a guiding and supportive influence in her life as she grows up.  I hope to be a mentor—an example of what it’s like to struggle with autism, but yet become a better person from having gone through it.  Sure, she may be a lot better off now than what I was like at her age, but I’m pretty sure I’ll have some wisdom/life experiences to share with her over the coming years…as we are both “getting older”! :)

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