Usually, I share excerpts from my novels, and up-and-coming ones, but today I wanted to share a story close to my heart about my oldest daughter, Jaimie.
In light of me writing the next book in my series about her, I had some heart-felt memories about all she's been through. For those who have read, Not Just Spirited, you know that she struggled with a very severe form of SPD. In fact, she was one of the top three cases her therapist had dealt with at that time. It was a very difficult time, but she has come so far and grown into the most productive, brave, strong young woman I have come to know.
And it has a lot to do in part with people who have come into our lives, helping in ways they never even knew.
She's 13 now, in Grade Eight, and in a gifted program in her school.
I am so extremely proud of her. She gets embarrassed with me still talking about all she's gone through, but I see her as an inspiration to so many others.
This is a story about a young boy that befriended her on her first day of Kindergarten. I hope you enjoy it.
The first thing I noticed about Shawn was his small size. He was about the same height as my two-year old son, Xander. But he was a fireball. He bubbled over with energy, talked out of turn, made loud noises when it was time to be quiet and couldn’t sit still. And, to the heartbreak of his teacher, spent a great deal of time in the “Sad Chair” to calm himself down. His actions never bothered me much, though. He reminded me a lot of my daughter, Jaimie. The difference was Jaimie fought with every ounce of her being to keep herself calm, whereas Shawn seemed not to be able to do so.
In most ways Jaimie was an average five-year old girl. She loved to draw, do crafts and run around. She was, and still is intelligent—above average in all academic areas—and has always had an insatiable hunger to learn. It wasn't what people saw that made Jaimie different. It was what they couldn't see. Jaimie lives with Sensory Processing Disorder, or SPD, and is Asperger's.
SPD is a neurological disorder that can affect how a child’s brain is able to process sensory information. Messages from Jaimie’s environment get to her brain, but they get “scrambled” during the processing stage because it can’t read them. This can cause tremendous overstimulation, confusion and, as a result, frequent meltdowns.
Jaimie was always been interested in other children but had been too afraid to get close as she was never sure how another person would stimulate her sensitive senses. Every so often, though, but not too often, Jaimie crossed paths with a little boy or girl she felt safe enough to open up to. And Shawn had been the shining light for her the year she went into Kindergarten. In fact, he was one of the rare people who brought out her gorgeous little smile.
On the first day of Kindergarten, after a week of preparing Jaimie for the day, we'd lined up outside the door with the rest of the kids. Jaimie, unable to handle the close proximities of the line up, stood at the end of the line behind Shawn.
As she leaned against the wall, her head bowing down in shyness, Shawn turned around and said, “Hi! You’re Jaimie, right? I’m Shawn. Like my shoes?”
He'd stuck his foot out at Jaimie to show her his fabulous Spiderman slip-on running shoes. That one little gesture stopped Jaimie’s little chin from quivering and almost changed it into a smile.
Shawn continued speaking in a loud, speedy voice. “Look! I have a Spiderman backpack too. I like Spiderman. He’s a superhero, you know. He can do things nobody else can.”
Jaimie didn’t say a word to him, but I noticed her little smile got bigger the more he spoke. She looked at me, covered her mouth and released a tiny giggle—something we rarely saw.
Suddenly, the bell rang and Mrs. P., the Kindergarten teacher, bounded out to greet her new students. “Good morning, good morning, good morning!” she said, holding the door open. “Shawn, either come help Mrs. P hold the door open, or please get back in line and give Jaimie her space. You don’t like your space invaded, neither does she. Now, let’s go have some fun, everyone!”
Shawn held the door open while all the students walked in. But as we got through the second set of doors leading to the classroom, Jaimie froze and instantly began to cry.
“No, Mama,” she said, shaking her head. “I can’t go in there without you. Don’t make me do this.”
Fighting back my own tears, I tried showing a brave face so her fear would ease. “Honey, it’s just like we practiced, remember? You remember Mrs. P. Please, why don’t we give it a try, okay?”
For fifteen minutes I tried every tactic I’d learned in her therapy to ease her into other situations to no avail. Her pleas got more desperate, her crying got harder and she bear-hugged my legs so I couldn’t walk. Just as I was about to give up, Mrs. P. came out of the classroom holding hands with Shawn.
She knelt down to Jaimie’s level and said, “Jaimie, you remember Shawn, right? He’d love for you to come in and be his carpet friend today.”
Shawn handed Jaimie a Kleenex. “Yeah, you can be Spidergirl. She’s a superhero too. She gets scared sometimes too because she’s different, but she's strong and always does her best. Just like me and Spiderman.”
Jaimie took the Kleenex, wiped her nose then took Mrs. P.’s other hand. I stayed for about an hour until I saw Jaimie ease a bit. Then we did our High-Five ritual—high-fives, see ya later, I love you—and I walked to the door.
Before I leaving the school, Mrs. P. called to me. “Miss. Laird, do you have a moment?”
I turned around and we talked between the double doors, as she continued. “I paired Jaimie with Shawn because they seemed to connect on a level I don’t see often.” She touched my arm. “Shawn has a variety of developmental, learning and behavioural struggles. This is my third year with Shawn. But he’s my little hero because he has an uncanny gift of seeing other children who have hurdles, like Jaimie, and makes them feel better. She’ll be fine.”
And she was. In fact, Shawn was one of the few children Jaimie called a friend. They stuck together like glue, always offering comfort to one another. And whenever Jaimie got scared or wasn’t feel well on a certain day, he’d stick his Spiderman shoe up at her and say, “See, Jaimie? Remember Spiderman,” and she’d giggle.
Shawn had to be moved to a different classroom, but Jaimie still talks about him. And he’ll always be the little superhero who made my daughter’s smile make a rare appearance.