Mafe Maria: Personal stories by autism parent mentor, Maria Stultz

Friend Eliza

Over the last month before turning three years old, Joaquin started writing numbers, drawing their outlines, spelling words and writing some, all by himself. His memory is amazing. His focus, passion, and control when drawing and writing is (I believe) extraordinary. All signs of a beautiful mind at work.

And, as exciting and reassuring as those academic developments are, I have to say that his recent anticipation and excitement for Eliza’s visits is what’s stealing the show for me. Long gone are the days of No Eliza! and having to close the gate upstairs upon her arrival in order to prevent Joaquin from running away from the romper room in an attempt to escape having to go in there with her.

Just this week, during the 5-10 minute span of wait right before our friend showed up…


M: Joaquin, do you want to play with Eliza?
J: Play with Eliza
M: Are you ready?
J: (no response)
M: When is Eliza coming?… (pause)… Pretty soon, huh?
J: Today, I’ve got Eliza
M: Yes! Eliza’s coming today. Today, you get Eliza.
J: My friend Eliza
M: Yes! Eliza is your friend
J: Friend Eliza
M: Yes… Eliza is your friend… and mama’s too… Eliza is our friend.
J: (chanting) Today I’ve got friend Eliza… friend Eliza… friend Eliza… friend Eliza… friend Eliza…

… And when she arrived…

They played in the living room spelling words and writing them with their fingers on the wall until I said the magic words who wants some figs?, which is our cue to take the snack and go to the romper room. In the past, Joaquin would not go up unless I acted like I was planning to go in the room too. But lately he blurts an excited See you later mama! and he happily goes up to the room with his (first and only) friend.

Just a few weeks ago, my coming in the romper room to end their session would have been noticeably welcome by Joaquin, who despite having interacted comfortably with Eliza, used to get out of the room as soon as he saw the door open, and immediately ask me to play his Umizoomi videos. Lately though, he’s not very interested in watching Umizoomi. He seems to be moving on to try Sesame Street. But at the end of this session, Joaquin had no urgency whatsoever to get out and end his play time with Eliza.

We all have definitely climbed a long way from the bottom of this mountain. And today, seeing Joaquin starting to open up to a new person in his life, I feel as happy as I did the day that I was enlightened to charge ahead with inspiration, passion, and excitement for the challenge ahead.

We’re very lucky to have Eliza. She is driven, excellent, and genuinely motivated to learn and play her role in this process. Her coming into our program not only has had a huge impact on Joaquin, but also has made me take a leap forward as I guide her and apply all direction and ideas I give her to myself, which has helped me learn more, become more and more inspired, and improve my own skills in the playroom. So I was more than thrilled last time we were together, when she shared with me a few examples of how her experience in Joaquin’s program has affected and enriched her personal life.

I am so grateful for how we all (Joey, Joaquin, Eliza, and I) are enriching each other. I’m grateful for the support I constantly get from my mother and father, and several friends whose interest and constant participation award them the title of extended members of our team… and I’m definitely grateful for the way how the forces of the Universe brought us our lovely friend Eliza.

Eliza in the playroom

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