Small kids are usually accepting of differences.
This is what most of my friends tell me
But, they also need to be explained the reason for these differences, in order for social interaction to happen
A friend of mine with with a neurotypical daughter gave me this valuable insight. She said that she had showed her daughter that she should reach out to one of her classmates who has autism. Until then her daughter( a very kind and sweer child ) had never considered the possibility, that a child that did not reach out - could have wanted friends - and just did not know how to.
DH and I thought it would be good to talk R’s classmates about R – his differences and the reasons for these differences – in order to help R be more accepted to and maybe even socially interacted with in his class . ( without any mention of any diagnoses of course )
So one hot Friday afternoon – armed with popsicles – we set out to talk to his class
We sat in a shady spot - the kids in a circle – and us with them too ( me, quashing any qualms about what the grass was doing to my silk dress from work )
We handed out the popsicles and were clearly too slow as a couple of the kids bleated from the back -“Why did I and L not get any popsicles?”
After they were assured that they were not being persecuted, we asked them if they knew who we were
Kids “R’s Parents” “R’s Mom and Dad”
Us : How do you know ?
Kids : “Because his dad drops him in the morning ?
Us : “Do you all know R ?”
Kids : Yes Yes Yes!
Us : “What do you know about him”
“He is a cool kid “
“He is very quiet”
“He is a nice boy”
I feel little tears pricking at the back of my eyes
Us : Have you noticed anything different about him?
One boy from the back “ He has a lot of things written down on his desk .. he reads those things and then he does those things”
Us : Do you know why he does that ?
17 heads were shaken to indicate no
US: “Do you know something special about R .. he could read when he was 3 years old ? But he only started to speak a year ago. So reading has always been easier to him. You can hear something and do it .. but its easier for him when its written down ”
Kids nod heads
One boy boasts : I could read when I was only 9 years old (all the kids are 6-7 years old by the way – but we decided to not nitpick at this chronological confusion )
One kid : Sometimes he moves his hands like this .. why does he do that ?
Us : We use the wonderful Mom –nos’s example “ when you sit for a very long time .. do your feet feel all funny “
Kids chorus: yes yes yes ( one dissenting voice says – “mine never do” – but we ignore it as its clearly an attempt at attention )
Us : What do you do when you feel that away?
Kids : “All tingly” .. “we shake our leg” “we walk”
Us : Well , some children’s body can feel that way all the time and so they need shake their body from time to time so they can feel okay
Kids : oh
His teacher says : “Do you remember when we read the book about how everybody is different … how some children learn differently … and we need to accept them ?”
One angelic-looking ghoul chimes up : “Is that they one where everybody’s head got chopped up in the end ?” she adds with satisfaction .. “into little pieces “
Teacher turns to us hastily and assures us that no books on massacres are being read in First grade
She turns to the class; “No the book where we learned that children learn differently .. “
Kids : Yes
Teacher : “And how can we be friends with R ? We can talk to him about the things he is interested in ..”
She points to the book. This is a "book" we written on R( . We have handed out two copies to the kids
( basically the book comprises – a picture and a sentence per page and talks about all the cool things about R. And also adds that he is only now learning how to talk and make friends.)
Teacher continues: “Like words and numbers and that is what we are learning in First grade.. and we need to be patient”
She turns to us “ I need to go inside to get the waste paper basket for the popsicles ..can you wait here “
Once she leaves, the kids assure us “You know how good R is .. he has never got a pink slip”
Another kids “Well its actually a red slip “
Dissent breaks out as to exactly what color it is.
But the general consensus is that it’s a VERY.BAD.THING to get
The kids explain all the laws of the "slips" – and there is clearly a lot of confusion- but apparentlyslips and the fear of getting them is a primary force in their young lives.
As they chatter on, it occurs to me, that each child is really most concerned about their own life and not getting into trouble themselves.
And that they ,do not really spend all day thinking about R and his differences.
Its an obvious truth but something I did not realize- and its very comforting
( its like realizing after you spend all your high-school years wondering what-everyone-thought-of-you. Only to realise that everyone was too busy wondering what-everyone-thought-of-them)
Kids say pointedly : “We have given R some compliments today”
And I remember they are doing this in their school – this chain of giving compliments
US : “Well we want to give you a compliment too .. you guys are amazing”
We tell his teacher and his resource room teacher that we were so worried that R would get picked on .
And instead these kids are so accepting and just plain nice !
And they assure us that it never happens here – even in the more grown up classes
“Sometimes as they grow up, in fact they get too protective and wont let the teacher correct the child”
I assure them fervently that if THAT is the problem we have to worry about , we will be very grateful to them and the kids and the parents of the kids who are raising them !
Of course, things are far from perfect for R socially
For R, friendship with peers ( for he has many great relationships with grown ups and is intensely doted upon and adored by many ) is his biggest challenge.
He has no friends his age.And has neither the know-why, nor the know-how of friendship
( And I am always reminded of this uncomfortably when I read R’s favorite bed time story these days – “Lizzy’s Friends”- story of a child with no friends - alone everywhere.
Lizzy makes friends with the paper toys she makes through Origami and imagines they are alive.
Each night as I read R the story of Lizzy , I tell R that the giant pile of books by his nightstand are his friends like Lizzy’s paper toys are hers. It gives me a great pang.
As my friends -you guys online and inlife – mean so much to me )
While I am very aware of all of these challenges
To know, that when he goes to school, he goes into an atmosphere of casual acceptance , means so much.
Thank you first graders
Thank you teachers for teaching acceptance in your classrooms
Thank you parents who are raising these great kids.
This post has been written by Floortime Lite Mama - mother to charming R - 6 year old with Autism and Apraxia who blogs here