Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Explaining Autism to Classmates

Well Monday was unexpectedly emotional for me. I had asked M's 1st grade teacher if I could come in and talk to the kids about Autism. Eventually I knew this would happen. As kids get older, differences regardless of how small, do become magnified. Kids are alternately incredibly sweet and terribly mean depending on the situation. We have thankfully gotten to the point where he is virtually indistinguishable from his peers, yet has his unique "quirks". I once spoke with Roseanne, Adam's mother from Autism The Musical (whom I related to on a very deep level, her career, her life, her personality type, etc). She told me she always makes it a point to go into her son's class and tell them about Adam and his Autism. M was in preschool at the time and didn't seem like a time to broach this subject as most of those children also had some form of disability. But, 1st grade, the kids begin developing at different rates, there are the more "mature" kids and certainly any gap in development becomes very apparent. So, now seemed like a good time as there had been a couple of "mother hens" in the class always trying to make M do something he didn't want to. He does not like to take orders from many people, just his authority figures. He gets that from me so I can't say that I blame him. So I searched online for resources. I found a book HERE that I ordered. Then I found this awesome blog HERE

OK so here's where it got emotional. I am so thankful for my children, I am so thankful for my son's progress but I had myself a little pity party. The realization sank in (again) that Autism will always be a part of our lives. I know this, don't get me wrong, I am not delusional. As my son "recovers" we do leave many pieces of the proverbial puzzle behind but Autism will always be in his history, in his now, and probably in his future. I realize this but sometimes it slaps you in the face a little harder than usual. I was sad at the realization that I needed to talk to my son about his Autism. See for him (and his sisters) it has always been this way. Life is filled with OT visits, Speech therapy, music therapy and for a long while, tantrums and screams at sensory issues in his environment. Trouble sleeping, constant supplements and special diets has also been part of our family's status quo. But for the child living it, I realized we had never spoken of it, had to explain it. And it kind of broke my heart just a little to have to do so. I looked at the unfairness of it (Why do I have to talk to MY child about this?). But my true self kicked in and said "Why NOT my child?". So I proceeded to write something that I could say to the kids to help them understand my son better. My goal was to explain in small bits, just how different his brain can be. I used a super hero analogy about a super hero with a cape that makes him fly. But, when you swim with that cape it can be heavy and hard to swim with. The same is true for my son's super sonic hearing. Yeah when he's older he may have a blast with that but right now, trying to listen to the teacher when other kids are talking, rustling paper, etc. can be a real challenge. And, his reaction to noises that no one else can hear may set him apart. I told the class that EVERYONE is different, that's what makes each person special but M's brain does work just a little differently and that is OK! I covered repetitious speech, I used the analogy of getting a song stuck in your head, they could ALL relate to that. I also told them that sometimes he needs to repeat stuff back to himself to make sure his brain hears the important stuff. At the end I passed out silly bands from the National Autism Association in the shape of puzzle pieces, found HERE . I can't even tell you what a hit those were!

Reading the book on Autism to them and then just talking to them about the way M's brain works is something that I never thought I would have to do when I pictured motherhood. But, not only is this a chance for my child to gain greater acceptance of his "quirks" but also for the kids to grow in their tolerance and love for those who are different. I reiterated that M is still just a 1st grader, just like each of them. He wants to come to school, learn, make friends and have fun. His Autism can make that harder for him. Some of his kindergarten friends in the class made some comments about helping him and his kinder class really was just so kind and loving. I can only hope that his 1st grade class is the same way. But whatever comes our way, I promise to use these experiences as ways to grow as individuals and as a family. Sitting down with my son and talking to him about his Autism was certainly never what I expected I would have to do but it is what it is. He asks to read that book now and maybe this process has even helped him understand a little better why some things are just a bit harder for him. And regardless, it gave us another chance to tell him that WE KNOW that he does have to work harder than a lot of people and how proud we are of him and the hard work he does each day.


Lindsey said...

Wow. Thank you so much for this. My son Jaxon who I blog about regularly is in first grade this year, and I never thought about going in to the class to talk to them about it. I loved what you shared though. Sometimes it is so nice to just understand someone else's experience. Have you ever thought of starting a "support group" like, one that is just fun, and not always talking about our kids and their problems? I would just love to get together with some other moms and just be. Yes, we can share successes etc. It is so much part of our life, but, I would like to just have fun too. Just a thought!

Shari Goodman said...

Me and Terri do lunch and would love to invite you to support eachother!


Loved this post. I had a rather emotional first day as well with Tate. It was much easier when they were younger. I wish I could just keep him in preschool. I think I told myself for the first time today that this is forever. He will always be different and it will be much harder the older he gets. I loved your explanation to the other 1st graders. Great work, mother warrior!

Matt and Brianna said...

I love the support group idea!! Even like craft night or something!!

You continue to amaze me!! I am so getting this book AND these bracelets!! Good luck on an awesome school year!! You rock my friend!!

Terri Burges Hirning said...

Thank you so much ladies! I love the idea of getting together too! Brianna, I am also a big time crafter so that sounds good too! Or whatever, just getting out with other women is a good thing!

Kristy Treible said...

Terri- Thank you so much! I always tell people about your blog. I am having a hard time dealing with the school year right now. WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER! Lets try tp set up a group some how!

Matt and Brianna said...

I have a really cute craft in mind!!! HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH AUTISM!!!! My mom has the Cricut machine which does the vinyl lettering and have some pretty good ideas stored up in this head of mine!! My fav one I wanna do right now is Family "rules" You use your own last name (of course) and then depending on how big you want your font, you can have 5-6 "rules" and then put each rule on a different piece of scrapbook paper, then put it all together and put it in a shadow box! My mom and I have been trying to come up with some other ideas too. We LOVE this machine!!!!

Maybe we can do a craft night one night a week and everyone switches off and shares their craft...

Whatcha think?

Matt and Brianna said...

I meant one night a month!!!!

Pretty sure nobody could do a once a week thing...I know I can't! :)

We could even do Autism crafts too, but sometimes, it's nice to just not have to talk about it. Even though we always end up doing it anyway. :)

Terri Burges Hirning said...

I have the Cricut too! I love it! I am planning M's 7th bday and ALWAYS use it for decor/invites/etc. I am going to do a birthday banner with his name like Sheriff Woody's badges, it is a Toy Story theme. I love the family rules idea! I have vinyl on my kitchen wall that says Bon Apetit that I did with my Cricut. And getting together once a month would force me to focus more on that creative side. I love doing it, I just don't take the time to that often. And I do have the cart that has the puzzle pieces ;)

Matt and Brianna said...

Oh I would LOVE to do puzzle piece projects. My mom just got the Princess one and it is STINKIN cute!!! You can make wands, crowns, paper dolls and such cute cute things. Thats what we are using for Tyla's birthday party. Hopefully it turns out as cute in real life as it is in my head!! Haven't been able to even start yet, and her party is SAT!!! We are forgetting the invitations but gotta get to work on the decos!!!

What time/day of the month is easiest for everyone?? We could do a different craft each month. I know Kristy makes the cutest necklaces and bracelets ever!! (if she wanted to come) I know of some boy stuff too if anyone wants those too. It could be lots of fun!!