Tuesday, November 4, 2008

There's a Weird Monster in the Pool

I can remember the first time I noticed my daughter being bullied and teased. She was five years old and she had autism, although I didn't know at the time.

We were taking a mini family vacation, staying in a hotel with a pool. Her younger sister was just beginning to walk and I was enjoying being a mom holding my one year old in the water with me playing motor boat with her. The sun was warm and its glare was somewhat blinding. Although not blinding enough for me to see my daughter, Sienna playing monster with the other kids in the shallow end. I was watching like an eagle and wanted to dip down, pick her up and protect her from the mean things the other children were saying to her and about her. I am not sure if she even noticed.

Sienna had blonde curls that perked up from the splashing waters. Her expressive blue eyes, round as saucers could tell a stories without her muttering a word. Strangers would often tell us how beautiful she was when we were out shopping or at the park. That is, when she wasn't throwing a tantrum of course! There she was, enjoying the summer day in the clean hotel pool. She was splashing around all snug in the inter-tube she called "Dragon."

And she was pretending to be a dragon too. She would hiss, growl, show her bare teeth towards all the other kids while they would run away from her, screaming. One little girl ran towards the small group of moms while we were all holding our babies together talking about how well our baby naps and eats. I heard her tell her mom, "That girl is so weird. She is like a monster!"

I couldn't detect if the girl was afraid or disgusted towards my little girl, but one thing was sure, I was in shock. I didn't know what to do, so I froze. I froze and I watched more closely. Sienna would swim towards a kid, put on a a mean monster stare and growl at him. The little boy didn't know if he should laugh or be scared but wanting to play along he let Sienna chase him. And, Sienna would chase him along with all the other kids in the pool. Holding her hands up, claws out as if to attack, she would run around the shallow end acting like a monster.

In attempt to help Sienna play with the other kids, I gave Sienna pool toys, flippers, balls, little sinking things. All ignored. Trying to distract her, I asked Sienna if she met any new friends. She would just growl at me in hopes I would keep playing monster with her. It was hard to get her out of the monster mode. I tried another approach, I tried sharing the toys with the other kids. I asked if anyone wanted to swim under the water and get the sinking pegs. They would. They would try to be competitive with one another. The same little girl who ran to her mommy earlier asked me what was wrong with my daughter.

Not knowing what to say, I said, "She just likes to pretend a lot. Don't you pretend?"

The little girl said, "Yes, but I think she is weird and she scares me."

Angered and saddened, I decided to get out of the pool. I continued to watch Sienna try to play with the other kids. I watched how the other kids would all get together and bond while making fun of Sienna. They would laugh at her and antagonize her just to watch her chase them.

"Time to go Sienna. Let's get out of the pool, honey."

It was a month after the mini vacation when I took her in to her pediatrician. She would be starting Kindergarden soon and she needed updated medical records. The entire time during the visit, she barked and pretended to be like a dog, albeit, a nice, gentle, loving dog. The doctor came in and I am not sure how the conversation got to the point for the doctor to use the "A" word with me but I will never forget her saying, "There is no doubt in my mind that your daughter has autism." That was July 2, 2007.

This post was motivated by a topic from a blog of a friend of mine. Please visit hellokittiemama at autismsucksrocks.com where she has written a post titled, "Hey Bully, You Suck!"


lynnmosher said...

Andrea, It is always disturbing when kids make fun of other kids. And it hurts. I'm so sorry you have this painful memory and I'm so sorry your daughter is autistic. May the Lord give you strength, understanding, and patience as you learn how to live with this. I also pray for peace and comfort for your family. Be blessed...Lynn

hellokittiemama said...

Oh :(

You know I have been right in those shoes. Alex loves pretend play and plays "wierd" according to other kids (aside from his sister, thank god she plays right along with him most of the time). He's all about the pretend play - amazing pretend play skills.. except somehow it isn't "cool" for a kid to have an imagination anymore. And oy.. the comments from other kids - they hurt.

I have a solution. You can come to NJ or we can meet in the middle and the kids can be 'monsters' or just ignore each other or whatever and we can have a coffee and laugh and cry.

Janine said...

What a terrible experience. Kids can be so mean.