29 March 2011

Hannah Montana

I was chatting recently with a woman whose six year-old daughter, Judy, behaves in many ways as if she is only four. The girl is smart, verbal, and lovely. In many ways she outperforms other children her own age. But in certain aspects of social interaction she struggles. She does not read facial cues as other children do; the negotiation over who will play with a certain toy that may be effortless for another child, for Judy becomes torture.

Her mother, who found her daughter was happier when they were at home and she could help maintain the familiarity of routine and reassuring surroundings, has only slowly begun forays into playgroups and outings to the supermarket or the mall. They are taking things slowly, avoiding over-stimulation, but they are making progress.

It is labor intensive and while Judy's mother is rewarded by witnessing her daughter's transformation from a child who could not function at all outside the home to one who plays regularly with a 'best friend', she also admits to finding a much more selfish source of comfort.

"She doesn't know who Miley Cyrus is," she told me. "In many ways she's still a baby."

Judy is content to let her mother braid her hair and pick out her dresses. She is content to read stories at bedtime and snuggle on her mother's lap on the afternoons she is tired enough to actually nap. She enjoys picture books with charming talking animals and never demands to wear makeup or miniskirts. She is not unnervingly old before her time.

It may be that Judy will continue to have the same sorts of difficulties as she grows older. Certainly it is tempting to diagnose her with something, anything, find a label that fits, and petition her school for an IEP. But in so many other ways she is doing beautifully, she is thriving. Might this extra time spent as a child, rather than as a pre-tween, actually benefit her? She is closer to her mother than many other children I've met. She does not yet think in sound bites, but in entire sentences. She works hard when given a task. She concentrates. She is not easily distracted. 

She is an amazing young lady and doesn't need, I shouldn't think, any other label than that.

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