It seems likely that all parents struggle with knowing what is and what isn’t normal or typical in regards to their own childs development. I was never really that into kids to be honest, with the exception of my niece and nephew I had not spent much time around young kids prior to having my own. I don’t have any type of background working with kids so both my husband and I were quite frankly pretty clueless (and may still be!) about when and how kids develop, what type of behavior is typical at which ages and basically what the appropriate expectations are for them.
There are many days, weekends, weeks even that it seems as if everything in our home is totally normal (aside from my desperate attempts to get the boys engaged in a dance party with me). During those times I often start questioning if perhaps I was a bit to aggressive and overly concerned and maybe Charlie is just fine with no real issues at all. Then there are days where we have no doubt that there is something off even if we don’t always know what that means. We should probably make an effort to schedule more playdates, spend more time around other kids in order to really understand what is reasonable when it comes to 3 year old boys (from what I can tell this whole notion of the terrible two’s is a total farce and three year olds are really the ones we all need to be looking out for….or hiding from).
When you are raising a child who has been diagnosed as having special needs, certain developmental delays, and communication issues it can be tough to know where to draw the line when it comes to behavior and what reasonable expectations are. My husband and I often talk about how to manage our child’s behavior without being too lenient or allowing spoiled or bratty behavior while at the same time balancing our sons requirement for certain accommodations. It can be tiring and stressful trying to make sure we are not letting our kid rule the roost but also not demanding perfection or creating a situation or expectation that he simply is unable to achieve at this moment in time. Trying to always remember that he may be almost 3 and a half physically but is not at that age developmentally can be difficult. There are many things we have let go of expecting or needing and in so many ways, we are extremely accommodating to my son but it is not to spoil him and is more about making life easier for all of us so that the important things can be achieved.
My best friend recently called to ask if we would be interested in meeting her family to go skiing. I love to ski and started at age 4 and would love nothing more than to introduce this sport to my boys at a young age when they have no fear and can learn the basics. I wanted to shout YES we are so in but I know our reality – we can’t get him to wear gloves, had many battles last winter over attempting to wrangle his snow suit on and we cannot even fathom the idea of getting him in ski boots and a helmet for the day! Is this normal? Is this typical? Why has my best friend been able to take her girls skiing for the last two years and why is that not an option for us at present? We have a 3 year old who we have yet to take on a real vacation (outside the NJ shore which he loves) because quite frankly the thought of dealing with airports, waiting, planes and his potential reaction is scary. Most of our friends have made the family trip to Disney and I think it would be amazing to take Charlie there as he adores Mickey Mouse but even waiting in a 5 minute line on the Ocean City Boardwalk results in such massive meltdowns that to be honest we are afraid of trying because these are not standard tantrums but become highly physical and intense. We don’t know if he simply cannot wait right now or the combination of waiting and sensory overload at places like these are just too much for him to handle. We don’t want to coddle him, we want him to experience everything that life has to offer but we also are in the mode of protecting both him and ourselves from unnecessary meltdowns, stress and anxiety. We enroll in kids classes, soccer, swimming, etc. Most of the time, its not fun for any of us and often results in a lot of crying (sometimes from Charlie, sometimes from me) and these type of activities, while a key part of growing up for any child, only spotlight that our world is not quite the same as many other people. We never got to see Santa this year and well that bums me out but I was respecting my sons wishes. We went to the movies once and luckily the theater was empty and Charlie literally spent an entire hour running up and down the aisles while we laughed (because there was no one around to apologize to at that time). Trying to explain to him that the point of the movie was for him to sit in one specific seat for two whole hours would have been equal to my husband telling me that I don’t need any more new shoes – pointless and exasperating.
Every day routines and activities are often built around some type of game in order to coerce him into transitioning from one thing to the next; we get him into the bath by having a treasure hunt which ends in the tub, we remind him many times about our plans for the day, show him our schedule and reward his ability to transition without a meltdown. I suspect many parents do the same regardless of whether their child has different needs or not and much of this can be attributed to standard toddler behavior. He has to have the exact same meals every single day, and he has to have the exact same bedtime routine every single night and he notices if I take a different route home from school and gets upset when our day is not routine because of a mid-day DR or therapy appointment but with each attempt, we see improvement.
The great news is, we are able to do plenty with Charlie as a family and most people would have no idea there was anything to be concerned about because he is a smart, engaging, funny, active and very lovable guy. We are much more aware and sensitive to certain behaviors he displays than other people are which helps and I need to continually remind myself of this fact. Yes I have had to let it go when kids at a playgroup or play area aren’t sure how to respond to his jargon or other odd behaviors and sometimes it makes me sad but Charlie is happy and content and most of the time he is having fun and completely unaware that there is anything to worry about so we take his lead and go with it. He does wonderfully in his classrooms with the other children and it seems that for him, a sense of familiarity and routine helps to overcome his challenges once he is comfortable and secure with other people.
Is it normal? Is it typical? Quite honestly, I have no idea. While it can be frustrating and tiring to constantly have to come up with ways in which to manage transitions, changes in routines, large social gatherings, waiting in line, meeting new people or attending new events we are getting better at this as a family and both my husband and I have become much more patient in general which is a trait we both needed to work on. I still worry that we are too accommodating and it is my nature to be concerned about whether other people think we are spoiling him or not being strict enough but for now, things are working and since I cannot change the situation, all we can do is go with it, keep finding new ways to improve and find beauty in the ride.