Turns out in some ways it's a lot like how other kids do:
I've been working with our local YMCA to start some classes there for kids with special needs. We started the first one this month, a special-needs dance class - although I think of it more as a dance party. It's deliberately very unstructured: I play music, provide colorful scarves for the kids to play with, and we let them go. So far, all the kids seem to be having a great time. Some move by themselves to the music, some run around the room chasing each other, some find other ways to play with each other. A few moms have reported that their kids sleep REALLY well after the class.
Today there were only three kids there. A few, including my daughter, had colds so stayed home. The three who were there ran around with each other, tried out dance steps and played games that they made up.
I was talking with one of the moms. She told me that her little boy - let's call him Sam - was very very persistent about learning to do things he wanted to do, like walking, running, and most recently jumping up and down. But there were some things he just wasn't interested in. Stacking blocks was one. At school, when the teachers worked with him to stack blocks, he would tolerate it but made it clear that he really didn't like it, she told me.
A little while later, we watched as he enthusiastically helped a little girl to stack the pile of yoga blocks she had found on a shelf in the room, into a big tower.
The scene just reinforced for me what I've been thinking about my daughter's therapies and education. She's currently in a special-ed preschool, but is scheduled to move on to kindergarten next year. I'm keeping an open mind, and I'm going to go visit the school in question but I don't think I'm going to send her. I've written elsewhere about some of the problems I see with traditional education. Much of this hasn't been an issue for her yet because of her level of development. So far, being in school has only helped her. When she first started, we noticed a tremendous burst in awareness, alertness and interaction with others. I think some of it was just because she was being stimulated by a new environment and new challenges, but I also think a lot of it was being around other kids her size.
Over the past year though, she has started to be a lot more independent - or, to want to be more independent. She doesn't like having to do what her therapists want her to do, or to sit in a chair in school when she doesn't want to - she doesn't like all of the things that I would never subject her typical brother, or any typical child, to. But she's different, she needs extra help. So what do I do?
The answer is that I'm not entirely sure. I'm not going to abandon her therapies altogether, and I am going to make sure she's in an environment with other kids and with some kind of routine and structure. But I'm pretty sure that the standard "special-ed" track is not what I want for her. I want her to learn to interact in the world and with people, not to do math problems on a piece of paper, or "follow instructions." I'm also pretty sure that she is going to learn as much, if not more, from her peers as she will from any teachers or therapists - just like most kids do.
So for now, we're working with some professionals to design a mode of therapy around her specific needs. And I'm going to be setting up more special-needs classes at the YMCA. I'm also making plans for a special-needs playgroup to meet at our home. The idea will be similar to the dance class at the Y: Very little structure, just lots of tools and an environment where the kids can work and play with each other and learn from each other. I'll be posting more about all of this in the coming weeks.