LEARNING FROM CHILDREN
When it came time for his lines, our little man performed like a champ. He walked up with the two little girls he was teamed with, and recited his part without a hitch, albeit with the articulation problems that make his speech a little difficult to understand for the uninitiated:
Next to the chimney we sit and wait,
We hope that Santa won’t be late.
Some hang stockings, but we put boots,
To be filled with sweets and horns that toot.
Not only did he get all the words out, just as we had rehearsed so many times, but he even pulled the mike a little closer to him and stayed a few seconds longer than his friends to relish the spotlight a little. My son has clearly inherited my proclivities to hamdom.
The songs were another story. From the first song, it became clear that our boy was over-excited. Instead of singing and dancing along with his classmates, he stood at the end of the line and stimmed. Apparently, our son’s excited inability to fully participate was anticipated, for his aide was sitting on the floor adjacent to the line, and he sat out most of the musical numbers in her lap.
Being the parent of an autistic child in a mainstream classroom tends to make one defensive. I stood poised to answer any ignorant comments or inappropriate eye-rolling with Kristina’s deceptively simple explanation of “my son has autism.” As it turns out, explanations were unnecessary.
To be sure, our son elicited more than his share of smiles and chuckles from the assembled parents, but I detected no hint of mean-spiritedness. Instead, it seemed like every person in the room was rooting for our little boy. How in the name of Father Christmas did we end up in such a pocket of enlightenment? After thinking about it awhile, the answer was obvious.
From the very beginning of the school year, our teacher made sure that the other children understood their classmate’s “difference.” On occasion, we’ve heard from other parents how much their kids talk about our son, and we’ve never been sure how to take that. But now we know.
The other parents of the class have been getting lessons in compassion from their children. Those children accept our son as one of them. And their parents are not going to be caught being less mature than the average kindergartner.
Despite a spirit of cooperation on the part of our local school system, my wife and I are still struggling to get our son the services he needs to realize his potential. Much of the problem appears to be that the special education personnel seem unprepared to deal with the level of autism -- both quantitative and qualitative -- we now see in our schools. It then becomes incumbent upon the parents to become the specialists, and educate the educators about what needs to be done. That process can become frustrating. Until I see the process fail, however, I’m not prepared to say that our local school district has become mired in what Tina Giovanni calls the “epidemic of denial.”
In the meantime, we’ve been given a glimmer of Christmas hope, not by the special education teachers and specialists, but by an extraordinary kindergarten teacher and the children of her class.