Not long ago I had a conversation with the psychologist from Sweet M's school. She was sharing with me that Sweet M had made all sorts of progress. The first sign of progress was that she was letting the daughter of one of the wealthiest families at the school steal her chair and she wasn't complaining about it. As it was described to me, this little girl was stealing Sweet M's seat just to see what M would do. No one was stopping this little girl from engaging in this provocative behavior. But now Sweet M was tolerating this. I had to wonder about the class(room) politics of this . . . teaching my child to be comfortable when members of a more privileged social class appropriate her place and attempt to provoke her . . . but what was more interesting to me was the next example of Sweet M's progress . . .
The psychologist went on to tell me that Sweet M is making amazing drawings . . . of female figures.
"First," the psychologist told me, "She outlines the figure, then she colors it in. And she's made many of them."
"I know the motif," I said. "It's sort of a primitivist image of a woman, isn't it? Big hips and bright colors. Sort of a combo of my body type and her babysitter's."
"Oh, no," she said, "It's not primitive at all . . .".
"Oh," I said, "I didn't mean it was primitive. I meant it was primitivist . . . like the art movement."
"Oh, okay," she said. "But what is so interesting is that she makes the outline first, and then colors it in. It's just exactly like her . . . she really needs that structure."
Hmmh, I thought. So now the fact that she outlines her figures is a sign of atypical psychology or neurology.
And now that 1 in 150 children in the U.S. are said to be diagnosed with ASD, one of the things that is going to hardest to navigate is what is a symptom and what just is . . . what just is an amazing and delightful and endearing characteristic of one's child, not a sign of disease or disability or difference. Once a child is labelled PDD-NOS, or ASD, or one of the tags from the DSM pull down list of possibilities, everything about them is up for discussion, as some sign of pathology, where what's bad is bad and what's good is bad, too.
While it may be to our culture's credit that we are recognizing the existence of neurological differences in children, it's also a problem when everything becomes a sign of pathology.
Take these drawings, for example.
Sweet M has been making house pictures ever since her difficult re-entry to her school in the fall. Wanting to be home? Wanting to feel at home? Wanting to find one's way home? Perhaps. Or perhaps a beautiful motif of a house, in the sunshine, rendered in various ways on various days.
Oh, but there are so many of them. I have more than a dozen. So perhaps it's repetitive, obssessive. Who knows? But what I do know, for sure, is that she is trying to find a way to feel at home in the world. And sometimes she finds a way to feel that way . . .