Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The day I got stumped!

Mo has stumped me many times and not just while we are playing cricket. The last time I got stumped, it was of a very different nature indeed.

Mo is exactly 5 feet and three quarters of an inch tall, a fact he simply hates. Reality is that Mo reached his adult height at 16 years of age something we confirmed through a bone age x-ray. It basically revealed to us that Mo was not going to grow any taller no matter what.  Some children on the autism spectrum tend to hit puberty early as did Mo and that did not help.

Mo is aware of the situation with his height, yet has petitioned me so many times over the past two years, “oh why couldn’t I be taller?” or “why do I have to be the shortest 18 year old in the world?” and “make me grow Mama, make me grow taller please”.

Alas, I have felt helpless in the face of his pleas and heartbroken for him as any mother would for her child who so desperately yearns for something he cannot have. Until one day not too long ago I had an epiphany! I finally had a solution for Mo. In fact I was amazed why I had not thought of it earlier! Mo was going to grow taller after all. So I went on line and ordered a beautiful pair of elevator shoes for him. Elevator shoes, as the name suggests, have inbuilt heels that lend height to those who choose to wear them. Mo was going to touch 5ft 4 inches in just a few days thanks to his newest pair of shoes.

The shoes arrived and I was over myself with excitement. How would Mo feel? Surely he’d be thrilled. Finally his lamenting over his ‘punyness  (according to him) would cease. So as soon as I could, I got hold of him and hurried him to my room where a full length mirror awaited to witness the aha moment.

Mo tried on this new pair of shoes and stood infront of the mirror.

“Mamaaaa!!!! You want me to be a fraud!!!” he hollered.

“What what do you mean Mo? Look you are so much taller!” I replied completely puzzled.

“You want people to think I am tall when I wear these shoes and when I take them off I will be the same height. They will think I am a fraud!”

There I was…STUMPED!

Yet another lesson learned from Mo!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Art therapy with Xijian*

Art therapy with Xijian*

Xijian entered the play school silently, seemingly indifferent to the children  around him and the adults minding them. He communicated with the staff, only when he needed something, by pulling their arms or screaming.

Drawn to Xi by his elusive mien and aura of mystery that surrounds most children on the spectrum, I discovered upon inquiry that he was indeed autistic. Xi was 4 years old and non-verbal, his single mother was having a hard time working and looking after him.

So when I was asked to do art therapy with Xi I agreed happily, not only because I was very familiar with ASD due to my own son having autism, but also because he would be my first client who was on the spectrum. I would have to take an entirely different approach from my other clients with Xi. I would learn with him and from him.

Thus, I began with observing Xi in my art space allowing him to do as he pleased with the art materials set up for him. I let him leave the session at will and return as long as I was not working with another child.

Xi would grab the markers and scribble on the paper prepared for him, sometimes for a few seconds or a few minutes then wander off. Often he would hum rhythmically while scribbling or make sounds like tuk tuk tuk in synchrony with the marks that he made with his brush.

Slowly I began to join Xi in his scribbles. I became his mirror, mimicking his movements and his sounds. Gradually Xi and I started to play through our joint art making. With little or no eye contact, Xi began to approach me and direct my attention to his needs; a colour that he liked, a mark that he wanted me to make. When I stopped to draw with him deliberately, he pulled my hand to join his. When I hummed his favourite tune he joined in and we both began to draw and sing together. Xi began to stay longer and longer in the sessions.

And then one day, much to the disbelief of the school staff, Xi barged into my room, looked me straight in the eyes, took me by my hand and led me to the school door where my husband was waiting to pick me up.

This seemingly mundane act of Xi’s was anything but that. It was his first communication with anyone in the school where he had taken the initiative to engage another person where his own needs were not the focus.

The moment I realised what Xi was doing, I would have flown if I had wings.


Thursday, October 22, 2015

Julia and Elmo!

Today I woke up to Julia’s smile on Facebook. Julia is the new cast member of the children’s program called Sesame Street. She is Elmo’s friend who does things differently. Julia has autism.

Today Julia touched me dearly as she stands for my Mo and for all other kids out there who are different. Julia is as lovable and as unique as each one of our children who need more Elmo’s in their lives.

Thank you Sesame Street for giving voice to our kids. Very often that voice gets drowned in the din of challenges that we face on a daily basis with our ‘not the easiest to raise’ offspring. And thank you Elmo for being such a good friend.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Where are our special children?

The other day in Australia where I was holidaying with my younger two, Mikail my 11 year old commented, “I have never seen so many special people anywhere before”. He had given voice to his observation whereas I had been silently noticing the same through our trip to the various amusement parks and other recreational facilities.

Mikail’s comment made me happy and sad at once. Happy that what he had said was true and sad because for him seeing people with disabilities and differences in public places was a novelty, hence his comment.

But then Mikail has only lived in countries where special needs children and people with disabilities are  considered a burden, an embarrassment and a lost cause by the majority. As deplorable as it may sound it is the truth.

I remember growing up in Pakistan how it would instil fear in me to come across someone who was ‘not normal’. This fear I was to face years later when own my son was diagnosed with autism and at the beginning of the discovery I was almost afraid of who he was. I believe my reaction was quite normal considering that the unknown can be scary and in my childhood children with special needs were rarely heard of or seen; at least I had rarely come across any.

Correct me if I am wrong but the reality has not changed much today. If the answer to most of the following questions is a NO, then we stand where we did decades ago in terms of accepting disabilities and differences!

How many of your typical children know what Autism, Down’s Syndrome or Dyslexia is? Have they ever interacted with or been around children with special needs? Have you ever made a conscious effort to invite a child with special needs to your house to play with your children? Does your child have a special needs classmate?

If the answer to most or all of the above is a YES then that’s the way to go!

It is a collective failure as a society if our special children are unable to access the same resources, environment and quality of education as our typical children. As parents of children with and without differences, it is our duty to make this world a better place for all of our children for they are all equally precious.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

What Art Therapy is NOT!

Art therapy (AT) is  relatively new to Asia, as a matter of fact in Singapore it was first offered as a professional degree in 2005 and a decade later, thanks to the die hard breed that art therapists are, the discipline finally has established roots and is gaining momentum. In countries such as Indonesia and Pakistan art therapists can literally be counted on fingers and I am quite sure the statistics are not too different in other Asian countries as well.

In Singapore, Indonesia and Pakistan, the three countries where I have had the occasion to practice/present myself as an art therapist I have almost always faced the following reaction:

“Art therapist? Never heard of that! Do you take art classes?”

Initially I would inwardly cringe at this comment yet outwardly feign a nonchalance, then go on to explain what art therapy is NOT rather than what it is.

So for those of you who may not know what AT is, let me tell you what it is NOT:

·      AT is not an art class
·       You don’t need any skills in art making or drawing in order to benefit from AT. As a matter of fact some art therapists work with stroke patients and severely disabled individuals who are unable to hold art materials.

·       AT cannot, in fact, must not be conducted by an artist or an art teacher without formal training. All art therapists are at least Masters degree holders and by and large licensed by local or international boards.

·        Art therapists cannot look at drawings and make psychological evaluations or diagnosis. (I could sense the relief on some of my friend’s faces when I apprised them of this fact ;))

·        An art therapist cannot train a school teacher to conduct art therapy sessions through workshops. (Very important point. I have been asked often to do this and I have had no choice but to refuse point blank)

·         AT is a process oriented treatment, meaning that there is no quick fix. Especially when working with children with ASD or other special needs parents need to know that one can work towards a goal but a fixed timeline cannot be given as to the achievement of that goal.

·         Last but not least, a lot of psychodynamic stuff that goes on during the art therapy treatment cannot be quantified or proven scientifically. My fellow AT’s will know exactly what I am talking about and our detractors belonging to similar but not the same profession will be the ones cringing at this one ;))