Friday, May 14, 2004

Dealing with disappointment 101

#3 daughter always watched her sisters' ballet and other productions with utter delight. When she first learned to walk, she got into her sisters' closet and swiped their ballet costumes. Usually she put them on upside down. When her oldest brother played his violin, she'd dance by shaking her seat up and down.

She is now 13 and has been in some small musicals as well as ballet. She has also won a blue ribbon at the County Fair for dramatic reading and has been to the State Fair in a 15 minute musical. This is no small achievement for a child with autism issues. She's a bit wobbly on stage and she doesn't always know what her voice is doing. She needs lots of coaching to get the right facial expression and pose. But performing matters to her, and she works hard.

Having friends also matters to her, as it does to every 13 year old. The hard part is, she doesn't know how to be a friend very well yet. She has trouble reading faces and body language and tone of voice. She doesn't know how to join a conversation without interrupting or being silly. Just 15 months ago, her only conversation starter was, "Do you have any pets?"

At Valentine's Day, she tried making a paper heart valentine suitable for a first grader, for an older girl who gets a lot of leads. She is under the impression that "hot" means "good." No, no, no. For her, the only time she should use the word "hot" is in reference to a cup of cocoa.

I asked her, "Who are your buddies at snack time?" She gave me two names. "Then that's who you give the valentines to," I explained. She took a stamp and ink and decorated three plastic gift bags and filled them with Hersheys, one for each snack buddy plus one buddy's mom. They liked the treat, and they thanked her. Appropriate contact made. A victory.

When her choir planned a 45 minute musical, she worked for two weeks to prepare for the auditions. None of the parts are big, but the staff looks for ways to give as many kids as possible something special to do. A few days after the audition, one of the audition committee (not the director) told me that the committee had been really impressed with her audition and that the competition was tough.

She hung on to that until after the parts were announced. She was not given a part. I repeated the committee members comment to her, dozens of times. She was NOT going back to choir. She hid the CD with the music on it under her bed. She tossed her score in the corner. The next rehearsal came after spring break. She'd had two weeks to deal with it, and she hadn't. She was NOT going back to choir!

"Yes," I told her, "you are going back. And you're going to give it your best shot."

She went back to choir the next morning without a word. She gave it her best shot. She relaxed and did her part on stage. She also made one friend she wants to get together over the summer.


Tonight was the concert. She sang well. Her facial expression was a little odd, but she had a good time and did a good job.

The Audition committee lady came to me after the concert, looking puzzled. "I thought they'd made a part for her. We'd all recommended that the director give her a part."

I said I didn't know anything about it. I did tell the committee lady how much of a difference her compliment made in #3's dealing with the disappointment.

I'm not going to spoil her victory by telling her that maybe somebody goofed and she was supposed to get a part. She made progress. She has a lot to be proud of.

Mrs James

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