Saturday, June 04, 2011

We're All In This Alone, Together

You could spend your life surveying literature, subscribing to blogs, and attending lectures, yet when all is said and done, the journey you are on as a parent is all your own and there is no map or chart or even guidebook that can do more than even vaguely prepare you for the road ahead. One person's hazardous cliff is another's launching off point and you won't know which it is for you and your family until you get there.

What's more valuable, I think, is sharing our parenting experiences with each other, not with the idea of providing directions, but rather to simply acknowledge that we're all out there on a roadless terrain, finding our way the best we can. It's more about knowing that what we share can't be found on an itinerary or chart, but rather in the process of putting one foot in front of another. I take great comfort and confidence from the knowledge that we're all in this alone, together.

My friend, Woodland Park parent, and fellow blogger Toby, writing as Floor Pie, has recently been sharing some parts of her family's journey. Her son, whom I taught only briefly last year as part of our summer program, was recently diagnosed with Aspergers. I've written here occasionally about my opinions on these kids and education, but Toby is on the actual journey and has lately been sharing about her experiences with Seattle's public school system. I think she's one of the best writers I read anywhere in the blog-o-sphere, on any topic, but these recent insightful pieces about her journey are really worth a look for any parent or teacher.

In her piece, Beyond the Broom Closet, she writes:

Let's face it: Aspergers isn't easy. It doesn't look like a disability. Sometimes, frankly, it just looks like a smart little boy being a tremendous asshole.

And in Drinking the Skool Aid:

It's hard work to have Aspergers when none of the adults in your life know or understand. He didn't need a gorgeous library or a salmon migration parade. He didn't even need "empathy building." He needed teachers and staff who'd seen kids like him in action before and knew what the heck to do with it.

Click on over, you'll be glad you did.

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Floor Pie said...

Tom, thank you so much for sharing these posts. We're on a good path now, but I have a feeling there will be plenty more where they came from!

You mentioned this, but I want emphasize that The Boy's rough preschool experience happened at another preschool -- not at Woodland Park and certainly not with Teacher Tom as his teacher.

The few weeks my son spent at Woodland Park's summer program were wonderful, mostly because Teacher Tom truly isn't phased by the sort of quirkiness or irritability that comes with Aspergers. He set a tone for acceptance, and the other parents followed suit. The curriculum wasn’t much different from the one we had at his old preschool. Both were play-based, pro-messy, etc. The difference was that Teacher Tom saw and genuinely appreciated my son’s strengths, whereas other teachers have focused more on his weaknesses.

I can’t really blame them, though. Aspergers can be extremely counterintuitive. Sometimes it really seems like the child is being difficult on purpose. They hold their ears when you’re singing “Happy Birthday” to another classmate. They shout out during circle time. They cry *a lot* when things don’t go their way. It presses people’s buttons. It presses my buttons, and I’m his mom!

I had to discard a lot of my old engrained prejudices about what a “bad boy” looks like. I had to recognize that this is not a choice for him, just as a baby doesn’t choose to cry all night and make us miserable. He’s just a small person with huge feelings and a wildly unique little brain, trying the only way a small person knows how to achieve equilibrium again.

He’s learning, very slowly, one day at a time, how to behave the way a child his age is expected to behave. He does so much better when the adults in his life have high-but-gentle expectations of him, and give him room to get it right. He does so much better when we see the good in him. Just like anybody else, really.

Lesley said...

"salmon migration parade"?? Go figure - all we all want, and especially children, is for someone who cares about us. This can be as simple as sitting next to or walking with. Time is of the essence - spending time that is. My best memories as a child are sitting with my granpa on the fence just watching the world roll by. I knew he loved me cause he was there.

Barbara Zaborowski said...

Floor Pie,
It's not just your child or those with a diagnosis. I can't tell you how often I have to remind myself that he or she, some child is doing the very best they can to accommodate my world. I am constantly (it seems) reminding myself that I need to accommodate them, too.

Yes, we want them to learn to live in the "normal" world, but the normal world needs to be a whole lot more accepting of diverse personalities. We need you to remind us of that.