Sunday, September 4, 2011

What I learned from some First Graders about Acceptance


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

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 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 singled out and neglected 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

Kids answer

He is a cool kid"
“He is very quiet”
“He is a nice boy”

I felt little tears pricking at the back of my eyes

Us : Have you noticed anything different about him

Silence

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.”

Kids nod heads  

One boy : 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 J )

One kid : Sometimes he moves his hands like this .. why does he do  that ?

Us : We use Mom –nos’s example “ when you sit for a very long time .. do your feet feel all funny “

Kids : 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 we write on R and 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 it occurs to me that each child is really most concerned about their own life and not getting into trouble themselves.

And does not really spend all day wondering why R is different.

Its an obvious truth but something I did not realize

( 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

The resource teacher says  “Sometimes as they grow up, in fact they get too protective and wont let the teacher correct the child

I assure her 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 good relationships with grown ups ) is one of his biggest challenges.

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.

Even though,  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. My friends ,you guys,  online and inlife – mean so much to me - you see )

While I am very aware of all of these challenges  

To know that when he goes to school, he goes in an atmosphere of casual acceptance , means just so much .

Thank you first graders, thank you teachers and  thank you parents who are raising these great kids.

This post is written for hopeful parents and will be published there on the 5th.

22 comments:

Trish said...

So wonderful to hear how well this went! My son's classmates have been very accepting of him as well. Thankfully, both our speech teacher and the autism consultant have been helpful with doing sensitivity training. We are likely going to disclose the diagnosis this year in third grade and let Michael attend the discussion - all at his choice of course.

Di said...

Very cool! :)

robin said...

Awwww! I loved reading this!

And I literally LOL when reading about the angelic-looking ghoul's comment! I'm so glad his schoolmates are so accepting!!!

Magnificent Minds said...

Great! Such a great story!

Bonsky said...

K-

My heart skipped a beat when I read the first part of your blog and your intentions. I thought, "Is she mad"?! Even with popsicles in hand, kids can just be so unpredictable and hurtful even when they don't mean to be. Not sure why I was worried about the outcome. I should have know that like everything else you do, your fearlessness, patience, and creativity serves you and your family so well -- knowing that trying is better than sitting still. I have a favorite quote that actually one of my daughter's classmates gave me for a school project several years ago. It goes something like "Even if you are on the right track you will eventually get run over if you stand still." it is attributed to Will Rogers. I believe she gave it to me in 3rd grade. Pretty wise for an 8 year old. You're pretty wise too Mama K:)

xoxo
Bonsky

rhemashope said...

oh, this goes my heart good!

rhemashope said...

i mean, does. does my heart good! =)

Deb said...

This fills my heart and my eyes with tears. So beautiful...so sweet. This gives me hope!

TherExtras said...

How wonderful!

Encouraging us, too!

Barbara

KWombles said...

Awesome!

Tanya Savko said...

What a wonderful place for R to be! So glad everything went well.

danette said...

This is great! I'm glad the discussion went well. It sounds like the kids and teachers are all really accepting which makes a huge difference.

Allison said...

I am so glad this went well for you. I enjoyed your descriptions of the kids' weird comments! One part resonated with me especially - most young kids are quite unaware and/or accepting of the differences which sometimes can consume us.
Hugs to you and R!

Yuji said...

What a creative idea to talk to the R's classmates!

jazzygal said...

What a beautiful post, I really enjoyed reading this. You both did such a great job with R's classmates.... and them with him. Sounds like R is in a very nice class indeed. The friends may happen in time;-)

xx Jazzy

Lizbeth said...

Such a beautiful post. I think I say that every time but it's true. I think my little Alex is your Lizzy---he makes origami, it's his thing, and he'd love to share it with a friend if only he had the know how. Sigh. These are the times I wished some of my bloggy friends live closer---we'd have one heck of a play-date!

MarsupialMama said...

It's always nice to come across a post like this. That's great that he has such a great school filled with good kids. And that you have one less thing to worry about!!

dswalkerauthor.com said...

I am so happy to hear R is at a school where tolerance and acceptance is the norm. How wonderful!

Rachel said...

So grateful for your son's class! How amazing those first graders are!

I confess that I read this with a heavy heart. I was that kid without friends and I never understood how it seemed to come so easily to others.

Communication is the great link or the great divide.

Can you imagine what R is doing for those kids? Bringing a bit of a worldwide view to their microcosm of a classroom? Showing that different is just different.

Dorsey said...

Great post. I'm glad that R's class mates are so accepting of him. My grandson has had bad experiences on the school bus with kids picking on him in the past two years. I'm hoping the class room situation is another story. Kudo's to you guys for going in and talking to the class. I wish more parents would attempt to educate their children's fellow students, perhaps the school environment would be much more friendly towards our ASD kids if they did.

Lisa Quinones Fontanez said...

This is so great!

Julie said...

I loved this. I'm glad things are so well for him and thanks for the little laughs throughout your story too!
(Hope all is well!)

Floortime Lite Mama

On my life as the mother of an adorable 5 year old with Autism and Apraxia