A child sees someone that she knows - not a total stranger, but not a close friend or family member either. She runs up to this person, yelling their name and flings her arms around them for a giant hug. She may even lean or hang on the person as she's hugging them, and almost has to be pried off.
A child makes up her own jokes and riddles but doesn't understand why nobody except for her finds them funny.
A child who wants something and won't leave you alone until she gets it or gets an answer from you, no matter whether you're talking to someone else, on the phone or in the middle of something. She doesn't even seem to notice that you're busy and keeps asking even when you tell her nicely to wait a moment. Frustrated, you finally have to demand of her that she 'stop!' and 'wait!' even though you hate feeling like you're barking commands at your child all of the time.
A child who doesn't understand why all of the other kids don't want to play the same game that she wants to play.
A child who is overly attached to inanimate objects like her blankie and her teddy bear and can't sleep at night without them. She even asks constantly to be able to take her blankie wherever she goes.
A child fearful of new places, or of things she's not warned about in advance. A sudden change of plans can sometimes throw her into a frenzy of asking questions about why, how, where things have changed.
A child so expressively happy - when she is excited, the whole world knows about it. You are constantly reminding her to use her 'inside' voice, to quiet down, to speak more softly, not to jump around so much or keep pulling on you.
A child who when asked to go retrieve something from her room, returns with something else that caught her eye instead. You call her name and have to repeat it several times, each more loudly, before you can get her attention to remind her that she forgot something.
A child that you can't trust to pour something without spilling it or to grab something off of a shelf without knocking over the 3 things next to or on top of it, without even noticing.
Do any of these sound familiar to you? I am sure that some of them probably do. How old would you say that the child being described here is? She sounds about toddler or preschool aged, right? Fairly typical for the age even.
Not so typical for a child who's about to turn 7 years old in a few months, however. A first-grader who should be maturing out of the 'ego-centric' stage of development.
This is the feeling of the psychologist who's evaluated Abby over the past few months. There's not a label or a diagnosis to put on her - although we are going to be exploring ADD (not the hyperactive type, but the inattentive form of it) as a possibility as well. But the lack of social skills, of the awareness of other people's needs and wants, of self-control and impulse-control, there's no real explanation right now and no way to anticipate when or even if she will start to catch up to the social maturity of other kids her age. Even Hannah, 20 months younger, is starting to overtake Abby in terms of social development and maturity. And yet, Abby remains oblivious of any differences - so happy and content in her own existence.
She is a child who wears her emotions on her sleeve. If she is happy (which is most of the time), she is very obviously happy. If she is frightened, she is the one in tears clinging to mom and dad. When she is proud of something she's accomplished, she celebrates that fact very loudly. She is exuberant.
I don't know how to help my child. I'm not even sure that she necessarily needs help. She is bright, she is right on track with her schoolwork, if not advanced for her age. She has no awareness of any differences in her or why sometimes other kids don't want to play with her or be her friend. If it doesn't bother her, why should it bother me? Or Ron?
But it does. Because I can see what will happen once the other kids lock on to her differences and I know how cruel kids can be. Because she is just like her Daddy and he remembers all too well how difficult his school years were, when kids he thought were friends would turn on him for no reason that he could think of. Because we don't want to see her hurt or shunned or made fun of.
I know what my child is like. I want to understand why she is this way and what we can do to help her. So far answers aren't very forthcoming, either from the psychologist or from my own research. She just doesn't fit into any of the typical diagnoses. Is it a disorder? A learning disability of some sort? A mild form of autism or Asperger's? Is it just that she's developmentally behind and will catch up on her own in a year or two? Kids are all so different and grow at their own pace - maybe she's just taking longer in this one aspect.
The psychologist will keep working with her and I will keep researching. We will search for answers - for the right answers for Abby. And even if we never find that right answer, we will keep doing the best that we can for her so that she will be the best person that she can be.
A child who loves life, who loves to learn, who thrives on being challenged and busy. Who marches to the beat of her own drummer.
Not necessarily such a bad thing after all.