Sockpants and Super Heroes: He Does Belong
I have always tried to adhere to three societal norms: (1) you can catch more bees with honey than you can vinegar, (2) never burn a bridge you might have to cross later, and (3) if you do burn that bridge, it’s best to not air that dirty laundry in public places. Well guess what! Today is the day that I say, “screw societal norms.” I have a few things to say that are going to be bitter. While I’m at it, I’m going to take a flame thrower to some bridges that I will never cross again, and I’m going let the world read my dirty laundry so that others might learn from my special needs parenting mistakes.
It all started in 2007. I elected to enroll Isaac and Tyler in a parent cooperative preschool. My thought was that it would be a good opportunity for Isaac to learn social and communication skills from the typical kids enrolled in the program, while giving Tyler an opportunity to make some friends outside of just his brother. In my mind, it was a perfect fit for them. Unfortunately, I found out a few weeks after Isaac died that not everyone felt the same. Brenda, a fellow preschool parent, felt like Isaac should never have been in her daughter’s preschool. In her opinion, he should have been placed in a different school where his needs didn’t put a burden on the preschool teacher. Yep. She saw my son as a burden in her child’s class.
It’s because of Brenda and her statements all those years ago that I have lived in fear of making accommodation requests of my son Caleb’s teachers. While being 98% general education, Caleb still requires supports to be fully successful at school. The harsh reality is that not all teachers and parents are happy to have kids like my son in their classroom. They have different brain operating systems that require a teacher to think outside of the box which isn’t something that fits comfortably into an already over scheduled day. Because of this reality, I have lived in fear that if I pushed too hard or asked too much of his teacher or school, I would once again hear those painful words, “he doesn’t belong here.”
This past school year was beyond difficult. Because of Caleb’s different learning style, he began losing his recesses for not finishing in-class work or not scoring at least an 80% on his math quizzes. The stress and anxiety of not being good enough only made his scores lower. Caleb was forced to do daily speed reading/error counting assignments that were intended to magically improve his reading comprehension skills. That’s not how autism works, people. Caleb’s lunches began being inspected by a teacher who wouldn’t allow him to eat anything else in his lunch until he ate his warm, soggy peanut butter and jelly sandwich. And then to my rage, he was disciplined because his teacher felt like he wasn’t doing his best effort during Jazzercise in PE. This was when I stopped using any honey in my dialogue with his teaching staff.
Then I received the cherry on top of this past school year. In Caleb’s report card, his special education teacher made mention that, “he has begun using his Autism as an excuse for not doing something rather than realizing it is an obstacle that he needs to find a solution to work around.” That’s when I snapped. I don’t know the background or context of her report card statement but, Mrs. Wilson, if you’re reading this, you obviously don’t know my son at all. Whether you like it or not, Caleb does have Autism. But I can assure you, he DOES NOT see Autism as an excuse. He sees it as a super power that makes him special and unique. Perhaps teachers whose sole jobs are to educate, empower and uplift the children in their care should consider their own excuses in avoiding implemention of current and innovative instructional practices that are well-researched and proven to help children like my son work around learning obstacles instead of continuing to live in the dark ages.
As you might have guessed, we will be moving on to new opportunities this fall. I’m optimistic that his new school and its teaching staff will not only see my son for the amazing human being that I know and love, but also possibly introduce us to new learning strategies we never even imagined. We know that learning a new routine and making new friends will be challenging but it’s also likely to lead to a whole lot of fun as we create our next adventure of sockpants and super heroes.
Holly Bahme-Lytle is the founder of The ISAAC Foundation, a Spokane-based autism non-profit. In her free time Holly enjoys chronicling her many adventures of motherhood mishaps raising her three biological and one bonus son who joined their family in early 2018. Holly shares these stories in this column and many more hair-raising experiences on social media.