Posts tagged ‘communication’

I will not be silent

I apologize in advance for the length of this post, but please read through to the end. Just trust me.

November 1 is supposed to be a “communication shutdown” day in order to raise autism awareness. People are purposely not using facebook and email in order to mimic what it must be like to be autistic. Quite frankly, I find the whole exercise strange – for me, at least. My autistic child is at his communicative best on the telephone when there are no faces to distract him. I suspect someday he will be the same online, so I refuse to be electronically silent in order to raise awareness of autism. This is a time to speak up, not shut down!

The last time I was silent was a moment I will regret for the rest of my life. After being bullied, teased, and picked on for half of his second grade year, C’s teacher asked if I would be willing to allow someone to come in and speak to the class about him. She hoped to help the other kids understand why C talks too loudly, why he laughs at odd times, and why he just seems different – she hoped that the kids might gain some empathy.

When I look back on the entire “event,” I am amazed at my own naivete and silence. About the only thing done right was arranging for C to be out of the classroom during the discussion. Hindsight is 20/20, and now it almost appears as a great comedy of errors, with each tragic mistake piled on top of another to create the most incredible disaster I’ve known thus far in C’s life.

Once I found out who was going to do “the talk,” I should have stopped it right there. I knew the person, did not have a good feeling about him, and had never really connected with him during his tenure on C’s special education team. He told me I should not be there during the talk. C’s teacher told me I should be. I went. Yet I was silent.

I listened in the back of the room while the talk turned into a twenty-minute free for all discussion about why the kids didn’t like C. “Oh, I know, I know!” one little girl squealed, eagerly raising her hand to share as if it was some kind of contest she wanted to win. She spoke up 11 times. Yes, you read that right. Eleven times.

Still, I was silent.

I looked at C’s teacher across the room. Her head was down. I waited for her to speak up, to say anything. I was paralyzed while I waited for the presenter to turn it around, to get to the good part, to mitigate this disaster. I kept thinking he had to know what he was doing and he would fix it by the end. It would be okay. This couldn’t really be happening. I was silent.

As he wrapped it up – without making it okay – I sat there, silently planning ways I could get C out of the building before he came back to class. I thought about how I could never bring him back to school after this. How could he ever walk back in this building again? I fought back tears. I was silent.

I went into the hall to intercept C before he returned to class. The presenter caught up with me before I could find C and said, with an air of fake sympathy and a touch on the arm, “That’s why I didn’t want you to be there. Sometimes it’s hard to hear the truth, isn’t it?” I was silent. “Sometimes kids just need to vent,” he concluded as he turned and walked away, completely oblivious that I had not even responded.

I was silent then because I could not speak. I simply could not open my mouth because I knew that only tears would come out. I went back into the classroom to grab C, who had slipped by me while I was in the hall with the presenter. As I walked up to him, two boys bounced around C’s desk. “We can’t tell you what we’ve been doing, but we were talking about you,” they taunted.

I grabbed C, deposited him with his special ed teacher, and went back into the classroom. I don’t remember why I did go back, but when I walked in, I heard C’s most loving teacher doing her best to erase both her silence and mine by turning the conversation around to what the kids liked about C.

“He’s really smart!” one girl said. “He’s always friendly,” said another.

I sat down, fighting back the tears yet again. In ten minutes, his teacher managed to undo much of the damage that had been done. That girl who spoke up 11 times? “I’m going to write C a note,” she said, “apologizing for being mean to him last week.”

I followed the kids out to recess, realizing by then we might somehow be able to make it okay. I still couldn’t say anything when C’s teacher asked me how I thought it went. It took me until the next day to process enough to ask her if she thought I was overreacting. This seems so silly to me now – as if I needed permission to be upset. But my asking the question opened the floodgates, and she cried with me as she told me how awful she felt about the whole experience.

I broke my silence. I wrote a letter to the presenter, knowing I could never face him without dissolving into a puddle of tears. I sat down with the principal of C’s school and the district special education director. Other teachers on staff heard about the incident (albeit not through me), and many approached me offering kind words. I heard through the grapevine that the presenter was distressed by my letter; he didn’t understand what the problem was. He never said another word to me again, and by the end of the year he was gone. I’m not sure if he quit or was forced to go, but I’ve heard rumors of both.

I discussed the incident with just a few people. The next morning, I sobbed at my best friend’s dining room table. I cried on the phone that night to my boss. Husband, my parents, and my brother and sister-in-law all listened to me weep. A a few far flung bloggy and real-life friends received an explanatory email after a cryptic facebook and blog post of mine. But I couldn’t share this story with anyone more than that until now.

It was the single most painful experience I’ve ever had involving C. I am so thankful C wasn’t there, and I would gladly hear all of it again if it meant he never had to. It’s nearly two years later, and I know I will never forget one moment of that most disturbing day.

But never again will I be silent. Never.

November 1, 2010 at 6:35 am 42 comments

It’s broke, so how do I fix it?

     If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, but what if it is broke?    

    What do we do when the tools we give our children don’t work? I watched C playing ball with a group of boys the other day, and because he’s so much smaller than the other kids, he could rarely actually get to the ball fast enough. Whenever he did, another boy always wrestled it away from him. He used all the scripts we’ve given him about sharing and asking for his turn, but nothing worked. He ended up in tears on several occasions and I ended up facilitating a sharing game with the group of boys.

     I always come away from these situations frustrated with our interventions, therapies, and parents who don’t instill kindness in their children. I know boys will be boys, and I also know these boys aren’t mean kids, but when one child is the only one being singled out again and again, it crosses a line for me. I encourage C to find something else to do when he’s presented with kids who don’t follow the rules of being nice, but this is largely unsatisfying to him as he so desperately wants to participate. As adults we are able to recognize that if we’re playing with someone who is not being nice, we don’t have to play with that person anymore.

February 28, 2008 at 5:17 pm 2 comments

For better or for worse.

     Our son is very high functioning in terms of the autism spectrum. He is able to communicate (although his comments/topics/comprehension often range from the bizarre to incredibly insightful to just “off”), and he is very, very bright. When I feel down or frustrated with our situation, along comes the guilt because I know how much worse it could be. Again, under the category of things I used to say, falls something I’ve said to myself a million times – “It could be so much worse.”

     Another mom I know, whose child has asperger’s syndrome, replied to a friend who made that statement, “Yes, but it could be so much better.” And she’s right. It could be so much better. I struggle with wishing this disease away and blessing it for making my child the intriguing, wonderful little person he is.

January 15, 2008 at 7:40 pm 4 comments

It’s all autism, all the time.

Parenting Blogs - BlogCatalog Blog Directory

Blog Stats

  • 80,836 hits