...I had printed off four full color 8x10 photos of my son: swimming in the deep end of the pool with grandma, playing iPad games with a friend, at the arcade playing a driving game on his uncle’s lap, and standing around a fire ring roasting marshmallows with a group of friends. I held up the first photo and said, “How many of you have ever been in a swimming pool?” They all raised their hands. I explained how my son had learned to swim last year and was in the deep end in that photo. A few kids said, “Oooooooh, the deep end.” I then held up the next photo and asked, “Have any of you ever been to Lake Tahoe?” all hands went up again. I explained that this was a photo of my son and his friend playing a game on the iPad on our vacation to Tahoe. One of the kids whispered, “He has an iPad? Wow, that’s cool!” I did the same with the other photos. The affinity the kids had for my son was palpable. I said to them, “Well, many of you have done the same things that he has done and you are a lot like him in that way, but there is one way that he is different from you guys. He has something called ‘autism’.” Everyone’s faces scrunched up. I had them repeat the word. I told them that when you have autism sometimes you have a hard time making friends and you can’t always say what you want. You might do things like make loud noises or stand up in the middle of circle time and be silly when it’s really time to be quiet. I explained to them that my son was born this way and that the doctor’s have no idea why. That even though he looks just like the rest of the class his brain is a little bit different than theirs. I told them to remember that when he makes noises, or maybe if he hits himself, he isn’t doing those things to try to make others upset, but that sometimes he just can’t help it. I told them that they could help him by being patient with him and understanding. We talked about using only a few words when talking to my son, giving him a choice between two things when they’re out on the yard (want to go on the slide or the swings?). I asked them if they thought they could do that and I got a resounding “Yes!”
That night at our Parent Faculty Club meeting my son’s mainstream teacher came up to me and told me what happened after I left. She said that after our lesson that afternoon the class went up to the science lab. While the science teacher was talking to the class, my son became restless and stood up. She said that the boy next to him then stood up beside him and whispered in his ear, “Ok, it’s time to sit down now.” and then sat down with him. She said he sat there and patted my son’s arm until the lecture was over and that he remained calm the rest of the time.
Tears streamed down my face as she told me this. She said that she saw and felt an immediate difference in the children after we left the classroom that afternoon and she was so glad that I’d agreed to come. She went on to say that the kids feel a real sense of responsibility toward my son now, that he is “one of them” and to be looked out for. A week later I got an e-mail from a mom saying that my son had come up as the topic of conversation at their dinner table. Her son now knows how to interact with my son and he feels at ease about this. One little girl even approached me on recess duty saying that she’d introduced my son to two new friends on the yard. She was so proud of that fact and I thanked her profusely.
That lesson took a total of 16 minutes and yet it has had an immeasurable effect on those children and their families. I hope that anyone reading this who has special needs children of their own will be inspired to help raise awareness for their own kids in some way. I feel so blessed to have been given this opportunity and am grateful for the understanding staff at my son’s school. It’s one of the best things I could have done for my son.
Special thanks to Shelly for sharing her story, and being my first guest post here at The Simple Life. Feel free to ask questions or leave comments below.