Exceptions and Expectations
Daisy Alaniz’s story as told by her mom, Rachael Alaniz
Written by Clarissa Bowers
Genius. There. I said it.
Of course most parents believe their child has superior intelligence but unlike those parents, I have the paperwork to prove it. In fact, I have the paperwork to prove that Daisy’s intelligence is “very superior.”
Daisy isn’t even five years old and can sit down with workbooks meant for second graders, read the instructions, and complete the assignments like it’s her job. Her ABC’s were nothing to learn and no one even had to teach her to read; she just started reading one day. And, in trying to do things like talk me into giving her just one more cupcake, she incidentally does basic arithmetic and algebra.
It’s incredible to see her soak up every single thing that she hears and sees, even the things you wish she wouldn’t. It’s with these displays of intelligence that I realize just how brilliant Daisy truly is.
And while I have the paperwork to prove that my child is an academic genius, I also have the scores to prove that she is pretty low-functioning socially. This is where the conundrum comes in. You see, it’s hard for an outsider to see an IQ score when the child in front of them seems completely unaware of her surroundings and just threw herself on the floor and started to scream because another human being entered her personal bubble.
I could lie and say that these behaviors are rare, but they aren’t and they can last anywhere from seconds to minutes to hours. With intensive ABA therapy these meltdowns are getting better every day, but they’re still a huge part of Daisy’s identity in the eyes of those around her. It’s still anyone’s guess, but some days Daisy will function very well within her environment and on other days she may come across something unpleasant and scream for seemingly no reason. With that said, I wish people knew that venturing out in public with Daisy is pretty similar to any family’s experience venturing out with small children; unpredictable and a little chaotic, which also sums up our entire life.
Despite the chaos, we work to hold high expectations for her like any parent would, but it’s hard to get other people to hold Daisy to the same standards as they would a child without the autism label. I’ve found that once someone hears the word autism, their expectations are drastically lowered because of a lack understanding and assumptions that she just won’t—or even worse can’t—understand.
As a parent, I can appreciate what you are trying to do with your acceptance of her diagnosis because believe me there are days where it is needed, but, for the most part, I need you to treat my child like you would treat any other child. With all the therapy Daisy has received and the incredible strides she’s made we expect her to be mainstreamed. So, if your kid takes a toy from Daisy and she has a completely irrational meltdown as a result, don’t make your kid change their completely normal behavior in order to prevent Daisy’s maladaptive behavior.
Instead, allow Daisy to work through her meltdown and then help her to communicate the problem and come to a resolution like you would with any other kid. If she is playing a game and breaks a rule, tell her. Please stop giving my child a pass because you think she won’t understand or you may set her off. Nine times out of 10, she will actually be excited to have learned a new rule.
That’s actually one of the perks of Daisy’s autism—we call Daisy “the police” at our home because she takes rules a little too seriously. If you give her a set of rules, I can promise you those rules will never be broken again.
Don’t be afraid to reprimand her in the same way you would any other child, because you will actually be helping both of you by explaining the error to her. Problems arise when you are scared to tell her, “No,” and you allow her to continue to break the rules. When you change the expectations for Daisy, you are telling her that her autism makes it ok for her to not reach her full potential and nothing will frustrate me as a parent more quickly than seeing someone make a choice of that magnitude for my child.
If you could only see the changes in Daisy since she started intensive 30-hour per week ABA therapy for her autism, you would think twice about lowering your expectations in any way.
If you could see her remarkable progress, you too would see past the seemingly disconnected child and into the extraordinary mind of an exceptional child.
Clarissa Bowers is a consultant and communications graduate student located in Indianapolis. This is Clarissa’s second opportunity working on a Facing Project and she is honored to be a storyteller for the Muncie community.