Believing in Herself: Unexpected Sources

This experience has been the best. It’s bigger and better every day. And the growth in Emelie is AMAZING. I’m not even talking acting here. I’m talking social skills. I’m talking being in a group of LOUD kids. I’m talking making friends in a peer group. I’m talking this girl did something I didn’t see coming after the fiasco of 7th grade. She stood in front of this group of talented and amazing youth and she THANKED them for allowing her to be herself. That she LOVED them all. That her autism was important but she was still able to be herself.

She told them ALL directors, actors, and spectators that she has autism. I’m still so very thankful to the neighboring community that brought Ryan and Marie in with the Little Red Truck Program through Missoula Children’s Theatre. The mission statement says: The development of life skills in children through participation in the performing arts.

I’m going to tell you about the positive experience my daughter had through the Little Red Truck program. Em loved drama. Always has, but by the time 7th grade ended, her spirit was faltering and didn’t believe in herself or her abilities at all. In past experiences, she’s struggled to find her place, fit in, and just relax and have fun. Through Ryan and Marie and Wiz of the West, something AMAZING happened.

You see, Emelie has autism. She’s on the “high” functioning end of the spectrum but struggles so much with groups and noise. She always pushes herself outside of her comfort zone. And this experience was no different. Although, just prior to the audition, I wasn’t sure if she’d even try. Yet she did. I think she did it partly for us, and mostly I think for her. Aside from the 3 or 4 people who knew her prior to auditioning, she wanted NO ONE to know about her autism or anxiety. She didn’t want “special” treatment. She wanted to feel like she belonged. Not only did she find she fit it. She felt safe and comfortable and came out of her shell. She made connections and friends.

The joy from the experience was unprecedented for her for being with such a large group of people. They made her feel so much love as a group and respected that on her own Friday she stood up in front of everyone, and did what she always does: owned it. She told EVERYONE how they made this the best week of her life and that she loved them all, and she felt safe to tell them: “I have autism, but you didn’t know it and treated me like one of you.”

Performance day came and went and she was all smiles. And something else happened. For the first time in her life she had not one friend or two, the usual MO. She walked away with NINETEEN phone numbers and friends. And she felt like a typical girl her age. In the end, it was nothing that screamed special despite all her amazing specialness. It screamed AMAZING.

We were thankful that they had directors who could facilitate that. In a world where actions speak louder, these were directors who not only believe and embrace the mission statement but live it. The development of life skills in children through performing arts truly did that week. And it showed so many people who told her she’d never be able to function in that environment, they were wrong. She just needed to be believed in and given a chance.

She has continued to run with it. All summer long. She struggled from time to time. She shut down for moments. Her anxiety peeked through in an ongoing game of peek-a-boo. Yet, through it all, she found herself fighting back. Music as an outlet out for her; ok she’s trying art. Teachers on her schedule she has struggled with; ok, bring it on. She’s using her coping skills. She’s pushing herself forward.

She’s found new allies in a new resource teacher added to her team. Not a replacement. An addition to her team of teachers who watch her and they see a new girl. She even managed to stay the entire FIRST day of school, that’s a first in my memory. She is taking that newfound confidence and trying to implement it in school.

And it all started because someone saw past her stims. They saw her as a girl. They saw her as an individual. They believed in her and that followed her into the beginning of 8th grade. She has a video to remind of her of that experience. She has friends who reach out to her even though they aren’t in school together.

That was a starting point for her. Gaining confidence in her self under circumstances that we wondered at the time was a good idea to do. It was the best. And 8th grade is off to a great start.

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