Monday, March 26, 2012

Theatre Shoes

I turn 36 in a few days. A significant portion of those years have been spent either onstage, backstage, or sitting in a darkened auditorium.

Apart from a lifetime love of books, my parents instilled in my sisters and myself an appreciation for all things cultural. On our family travels, we never visited Disney World, Epcot Centre or Universal Studios. I've still never been to any of those places. We went to art galleries, museums, and queued up outside many a theatre in all weathers to get tickets to Starlight Express, Cats, The Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, Miss Saigon, Blood Brothers and more, even if it meant sitting separately or having to come back and queue again another day when there were only enough tickets for a couple of the members of the family. London's West End is one of my favorite places in the world.

As a young dancer, I spent hours a day backstage and onstage. Blocking, lighting, marking, and, of course, dancing. So the theatre is a very special place for me, and even when I stopped performing I remained an eager audience member. My mum, herself a frustrated ballerina, has long been a professional fundraiser, bringing plenty of private funds to very deserving symphony orchestras and ballet companies.

When Little A came along, I stayed away from the theatre for many years. No nanny meant no social life, and a husband who worked late most nights meant I couldn't turn over babysitting duties either. Then the Au Pair came, and gradually I began to make time once again for evenings out. Drinks, dinners, the occasional party and, finally, once again, theatre trips.

This first quarter of 2012, I've been in the audience more than I have the past four years, thanks to a friend's convincing me to get a local stage company's season ticket (three shows in three months). And then a bonus - a ballet company from Barcelona came to town to do a quick double bill.

For the first time in decades, I was blown away by ballet. Not since Sylvie Guillem and Darcey Bussell have I been so impressed. And this time, it wasn't because of the dancers, though they were fantastic. Catalan choreographer David Campos straddled the line between culture and popular and melded them together perfectly with his new restagings of old ballets. For the first time, I wondered how different my life would have been if I'd moved to Barcelona to dance with their company when they'd invited me, and felt honored to have been given such good parts to dance when he and his wife staged Carmina Burana in Manila fifteen years ago.

Ah, the stage. Sometimes, I miss you. But I don't regret hanging up my dancing shoes for the turns my life has taken since. For now, I'll be a willing audience member again. And again, and again.

Friday, March 23, 2012

"Graduation" Day

School is out. Last Friday, Little A's class had their moving up day celebration. With pride, we watched amazed as our little boy donned first his long-sleeved shirt and trousers with very little resistance, and then put on his toga and received his certificate. Small potatoes for most children, but considering that just a few weeks ago Little A wouldn't even wear khaki shorts (soft cotton only), let alone the toga, it was a huge achievement for us.

The class had been practicing a dance number, and he was doing some of the movements easily, but on the day of the show, the teachers played a surprise Audio Visual presentation alongside the stage, and Little A was so fascinated by it that he completely neglected the bits of choreography he'd worked so hard to master.

He's going back to the same class next year, and joining the few 5-year olds who will not yet be moving to big school. We need this year to cement his behavioral improvements, and to determine what sort of school he will be ready to attend next. The summer will provide ample time for intensive therapy work. From the sidelines, we will keep cheering on our little boy.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Water Babies

Today marks the first day of my family's summer. It's two more weeks til school lets out for Little A, but the weather has already turned sultry. More importantly, the water in the swimming pool outside has warmed up. Today we went for our first family swim.

At some point last year, Little A taught himself to doggy paddle. Despite other tactile sensitivies, he's always loved the water. Telling him swimming time is over has meant, for the past couple of years, about half an hour of solid screaming, kicking and hitting as he is bodily dragged into the shower.

Then came the Great Fall, which meant no swimming for a couple of months. Thankfully that coincided with what we consider "the cold season" (which is really when the water temperature is falls below 32 degrees Celsius). Little A would test the water with his toes and not even try to get in.

Lately, he's been spending more time by the pool than on the playground - dipping his feet into the water, pretending to jump or dive in, and gleefully watching other children swimming. Then came yesterday, when he jumped in with his clothes on. I fished him out and explained that we had school in an hour and that he'd have to shower and dress. Shocked at having been fully submerged for the first time in months, he didn't complain.

Today, Big A and I let him find his water groove again. After a few minutes of holding onto us and being careful, Little A gained confidence. By the time the hour mark rolled around, he was paddling happily half a length at a time.

I hope we can get in some formal lessons this summer. Some of Big A's former National Swim Team-mates have gotten certified to teach special needs kids how to swim. Little A's cousin has made great strides with his lessons, even learning to blow bubbles, something he could never do before (he has oromotor dsypraxia). I'd like Little A to be "properly" drownproofed, and seeing how he has his father's build and genes, expect he too might swim competitively one day.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Pretend Play

Autism is a tripod. In order to be diagnosed, a child needs to fit at least two of three criteria: delayed or lack of communication, absence or lack of social interaction, and to practice certain behaviors (most of which can fall under the sensory intergration disorder umbrella, or just be plain self-stimulation behavior - head-banging, rocking, inappropriate hand movements and the like).

Among these three main criteria are a bunch of sub-categories. One of these is imaginative play. Most children with autism do not or rarely engage in pretend play. Either because they don't know how, or they just can't conceive of doing something imaginary when the real world is already such a challenge for them to deal with on a daily basis.

If you give a child with autism a toy truck, he or she may put it in his/her mouth, spin its wheels, or roll the toy along but without a "destination" in mind - just rolling for the sake of it. They need to be taught what comes naturally to other children - that pretending is not silly or pointless, but healthy and fun.

Little A's pretend play came along gradually. He loves animals, so apart from lining them up and spelling their names, we put them on habitat boards, or take them into their "environments" - sea creatures in the bathtub, zoo animals in the plants. He enjoys the wonderful dollhouse in the dental office next to the therapy centre, but still needs more encouragement and time to create play scenarios for Madeline and her friends.

Seeing him pretending to ride a plastic giraffe at school, trot and jump a toy horse over fences and feed a little dog without prompting are causes for much joy in our house.

If there's anything you learn from living with autism, it's that steps can be infinitesimally tiny, but when they are made, a huge leap is achieved in the child's brain. These miniscule gains are massive to the likes of us, and the promise of these and the hope that more will come are what keep us going, moment after moment, day after day.