As you know, Daniel is in middle school. In our district there is one middle school that all schools meld into. He has done an amazing job. He is trying really hard and working really hard. I've given him some new independence. He still has a parapro with him except for band. Band is a time when he has had some independence previously. I really wanted him to have a para with him during lunch since a middle school lunch room is such controlled chaos. I still think this was a good move especially since Daniel has really started noticing when his peers are "acting silly" or "not following the rules" and it makes him M*A*D* MAD. The good news is he is noticing those around him more, the bad news, he wants to control them. We are working on it.
This weekend I took Daniel for his usual swim on Sunday. I actually got my butt in the pool this week to swim with him. My hope was to make him actually swim more, (he likes to "race" me) and also to get myself a bit of exercise. For a girl who has never (don't hate me) really gained weight (I gained 29 pounds in both of my pregnancies) I have added a solid 12 to mostly my midsection. It's depressing, especially since the only thing that has changed has been my age. While we were in the pool a boy Daniel's age who we frequently see there arrived. I took the opportunity since I was right there to initiate some interactions. Daniel was showing him all of his different fish impressions in the water. These include, swimming like a jelly fish, dolphin, whale etc etc. They are eerily accurate. The boy started playing along and also trying out the strokes and following Daniel. He also added in more typical 12 year old boy things like "swim like a dead body" which Daniel imitated right back. I was thrilled. I suggested they go off the slides and they did. This went on for a good 45 minutes. During this time I started talking to said boy's father. His son swam over and clearly had something to say to me.
He then told me that during band (which he has with Daniel) when "Daniel says what some kids think to be random things there is some laughing and picking on him". I loved his assessment that others may perceive his perseverating to be random but in fact it is not! Anyway, I asked if these kids happen to be kids who had never been in a school with Daniel before. He confirmed my thoughts. I surprised myself by not being upset by this fact. I realized right away that when people don't know or understand Daniel's disability they think it's nuts the way he talks out loud all the time. He did also mention that the two trombone players (one of which Daniel considers his best friend) stood up for Daniel when this would happen. This pleased me greatly and I thanked him for telling me and immediately started writing the soon to follow email in my head.
My solution to this is not to change anything about Daniel, or to get more support but to educate the children. I emailed the social worker, special ed teacher and of course the band teacher and told them what I had heard and encouraged a "talk" with the band class about Daniel. The band teacher said that she had seen this and had talked to the offending children about it and has not seen anything since. The social worker agreed that a little educational talk may be in order.
I know that some parents on the spectrum do not agree with how I handle his disability. I hear undercurrents of "not respecting his privacy" that it is "personal" etc. Some choose the opposite of me and do not tell their kid's peers of the disability. Maybe part of it is Daniel's disability is out there anyway, you can't miss it! But really I think that most kids, even those that are higher functioning, the kids know there is a difference and I have found that if you address the difference and explain it (especially at a young age) the kids just kind of say, oh, hmm. It has been our experience that the kids who went to his lower elementary are all extremely supportive. We were lucky enough to have a fabulous social worker there and every single year I encouraged her to talk to his class about him (when he wasn't there). This has grown into a huge following of kids who are very protective of him. It has also, on more than one occasion (like last time he switched schools) helped kids to feel comfortable enough to approach me or their parents and tell them of some injustice happening. It is my feeling if we tried to hide it and not talk about it, they wouldn't feel comfortable letting us know of something going on.
I don't want you to think he gets harassed all the time. I can count on one hand in 7 years the instances this has come up. I tell people all the time if he can't answer their question, or he is barges past them almost pushing them out of the way, if it works I'll tell them of his autism. It isn't an excuse, but a learning opportunity for others. They can learn one of the many ways autism can look, they can learn how to not be so judgemental (because you haven't walked in anyone else's shoes) and they can learn to be kind. I feel with my 24/7 full disclosure that I'm helping others to do that. I am thankful for the information I received at the pool on Sunday, not that kids were sniggering at him, but because we have the opportunity to help them understand and accept someone else's differences.
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