Today, my son was here.
One fairly common symptom of Autism is that it’s easy for someone on the spectrum to withdraw into the world of their own. This is one of the more painful aspects of autism as it feels like you’re walking blindfolded, in the dark, through a thick fog looking for your lost boy.
Perhaps this is why it’s often so difficult to let go of his hand cause when we’re holding hands, I know he’s there even when he’s constantly repeating the “You ARE A TOY” scene from Toy Story. Even when he’s repeating from memory and in sequence every “Disney/Pixar Film” by name and in release date order, if he’s holding my hand, we’re together, and we can act out scenes together to prove it to one another.
But there are times when I simply have to let go. And while I know that this is a pain that every parent faces, there’s a part of me that’s terrified of the “what ifs.”
What if this is the one time that his internal world becomes more interesting than the one we share.
What if, this time, he doesn’t reach out for me through the fog and the dark?
My rational mind knows this won’t happen, but one thing they don’t tell you when you’re picking up your official PARENT card is that your rational mind doesn’t really know one damn thing when it comes to your kids.
And so we come to days like today.
School has been difficult for Matthew this year. Jumping to middle school is always a struggle, even at great schools like Challenger, but this transition has been a hard one, I’m convinced, because of the class size.
Not only has he transitioned from elementary to middle, but the size and diversity of his class room has radically changed.
There are 13 kids in his room, and while I know this doesn’t sound like a lot for a middle school class, it is. (Last year his class had seven students; it was his best year.)
In response to the number of people in his room, Matthew has been shutting down, often, during school.
When the outside world is too much to bear for him, he retreats inside. And often 13 kids in one classroom is too much to bear. So long as he returns from his sojourn though the fog, it’s okay. But for much of end of 2017, that didn’t happen at school often. It was just too much to bear for him.
And despite all the love and devotion, all the patience and dedication that my boy’s teacher Ms. Miller and the aides Miss Scott, Mrs. Whitley, Mrs. McDonald, and Mrs. Sorrell give, my boy couldn’t seem to break through the fog to reach them.
Their dedication to him and his education despite his sojourning, his stemming, was frankly remarkable and inspired.
I mean, how long do you continue to try to reach a child who is reciting every Pixar film in order along with release date?
It’s easy to give up, but they refused. They refused to give up looking for my boy and for the twelve other boys and girls in their loving care.
When we returned from the holidays, the flu hit Huntsville.
While I certainly don’t wish to make light of this virus (we’ve all had it here as well), one side effect of this bug has been that the class sizes have been lowered a bit pretty much everyday since we returned from the break.
And because of his teachers’ dedication, Matthew found his way out of his inner world to return to the one we share: my boy was there.
It started last week as the class worked on their Valentine’s Day presents:
It’s hard to concentrate on your art when you’re in the fog. Completing this took several days because sometimes he’d just had enough, but because of the smaller class sizes, that was possible. Everyone could wait a moment or a day. There was time. There was peace.
And the art came.
And my boy was proud.
But it didn’t end there.
Abstracting the Abstract
Today, my boy was asked to label money names with their values. Now, I know that this doesn’t seem a big deal. Most kids master this in first grade at least, but for a kid on the spectrum, money is impossible.
Think about it. It’s an abstraction of an abstraction. The boy’s world is concrete, so money is hard. Ms. Miller, Miss Scott, Mrs. Whitley, Mrs. McDonald, and Mrs. Sorrell have been working on helping the boy move from the concrete to the abstract all year.
They’ve done this despite it seeming, I’m certain at times, hopeless because reciting scenes from his favorite movies was simply more comforting to him.
nevertheless, they persisted.
Not once did they ever quit on my son. Not once did Ms. Miller even allow me to quit. She knew what he was capable of. And she earned my trust.
She persisted. She cajoled. She bargained. She organized. She rearranged. She worked her backside off for that one moment when the abstract would click and connect to the concrete.
And today it did.
My boy, because of the love and dedication of his teachers, found his way through the fog today to enter our world and show off the knowledge he’s gained even when it seemed he was lost.
And it’s all because of a teacher who believes in her students.
And never, ever gives up no matter the obstacles and barriers thrown in her way.
This is what teachers do. Every single day. They fight for their kids. They struggle to bring them into our larger world. They repeat the lessons in the hope that somehow, some way the message breaks through.
And then they cheer when it happens.
Believe The Teachers
Our teachers need our support. They need a reasonable work load that doesn’t require them to spend every waking hour doing paperwork so they can spend every possible moment in the class room cheering on the miracles they help create.
There’s no reason this classroom should be this large. There’s no justification for it at Challenger or at any school in our district.
We need to make reasonable-sized classrooms for all our kids a priority in this district. We need to assess the classroom size not simply on the “numbers” but on the names and needs of the kids in the room to give teachers the space they need to create these miracles.
We need to trust our teachers. They know the children; they know the needs. If they need a smaller class size, trust them that they’re not just trying to angle for an easier work load. They’re not. They’re trying to perform a miracle, and Miracles. Are. Never. Easy.
Through the Fog and Dark
The miracle here isn’t that my boy can draw a line between “Penny” and “1 cent.”
The miracle is that he did it without distraction. He did it celebrating, you can hear it in his voice, what he discovered he could do. He did it without getting lost in his own world again.
He did it because he knew he was surrounded by love.
Reminding me, once again, which is good cause parenting y’all is hard, that I have to let go of his hand.
I have to trust that others love him and will search for him when he’s lost.
I have to trust that he’s capable and willing to find his own way out of the fog and through the dark to take my hand again, letting me know that he’s there, and everything is going to be alright.
Hi, my boy. It’s so good to see you.
Thank you for sharing this, the words rang into my heart.
Thanks Kim. Yours always do the same for me.
Thanks for reading.
Ms. Miller was my team teacher for several years. We taught high school, which is very different, but I don’t doubt any of what I am reading. She is so amazing with the kids! Thank you for the wonderful praise and recognization you gave her! I think you made her decade! 🙂
I hope so. She’s made ours.
I so so appreciate you sharing ALL that you do. Although you and I have never met in person, I have followed your stories and posts for a long while. You ARE the advocate for children and for us…the teachers who love their students. Thank you, Russell. Im really glad you shared tonight. What an inspiring message.
Thank you for sharing your heart here. When I taught in the Huntsville City Schools, I became a better teacher because of working with special education teachers. I learned so many valuable lessons that have remained with me as I moved to a different school system. Bless you and yours!
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