Thursday, June 19, 2014


I almost hate to write this, because most of the day was so perfectly lovely.

I mean that with all of my heart. There we were at Ethan's school. Second to last day. We walked in his kindergarten classroom to little blue plastic chairs set up for all the parents and family members. The kids sat, squirmed and squiggled excitedly, wearing hats they'd made. Mrs. B. got everyone's attention and the show began.

When all was said and done, we'd relished as the nearly 20 five- and six-year-olds sang three songs, recited a poem, read and acted out "The Three Little Pigs," and (this had to be the highlight) danced and shook their bodies around to "What Does the Fox Say?," "Happy," and "Despicable Me."

Watching Ethan dance to the music with the rest of his classmates was priceless. So was witnessing him act (with two other boys) in the role of the Big Bad Wolf. He even used a mean wolf voice. The kid sounded downright menacing.

I wanted to laugh at the sheer cuteness of the kids, to wrap up their innocence in a way so that it would never leave, to cry at the sweetness when a little girl threw her arms unabashedly around her teacher and gave the kind of hug that allows little room to breathe.

The performance ended with certificates for each student, popsicles for kids and adults alike, and an impromptu conga line that involved a good chunk of the class.

What I'm about to write can't diminish all of that. I loved it. I love Ethan's teacher. I'm so proud of him and how well he's coped this year. I love of all of those other little faces. There is something so precious about this age. Having an older child reminds me that these days are fleeting indeed.

That was what I wanted to think about, to sit with, as we walked away from the school, as I was climbing back into the car. Then I saw one of the special ed. teachers. She and another had come into the classroom to watch the kids. I'd seen their smiles and applause. Their faces had shined with pride not unlike a parents'.

"Wasn't that great?" she said, all smiles. I agreed. She continued. "He did so well. And you wouldn't know. You wouldn't even be able to distinguish him from any of the other kids." I politely nodded. Maybe she wanted me to further comment, but I couldn't find any words. I felt as if I were a balloon with a slow leak. "Yeah," I managed with a weak smile, then rummaged through my things. She went on her way.

You couldn't distinguish him from the other kids.

Is that what we were working toward here? Was that the end goal? To make my child blend in; that he not exhibit behaviors that call attention to the fact that he is, in fact, different?

I was proud that Ethan had held his own in the class. That he participated. That he was having fun. That he had learned so much over the past nine months. I was grinning and clapping because he had worked hard. That he was overcoming his anxiety and shyness and doing things out of his comfort zone.

I wasn't marveling that he looked like a regular kid; that maybe his diagnosis wasn't apparent to anyone.

I don't think they realize, when they talk sometimes. I don't think they understand the false hopes they build, the expectations they raise when they tell parents what they think they want to hear. There is a very big difference between not looking typical and not being typical. Modifying a child's behaviors, working to squelch more obvious signs of autism leaves you with just an autistic child who can adapt in public. It doesn't leave you with a typical child.

Ethan can read like the other kids and sing and do the hand motions and even carry on conversations but it doesn't mean he doesn't prefer the inner world of his mind and that people really tire him out after a bit and sometimes he takes comfort in the quiet sameness of patterns and numbers.

When, I wondered, did blending in become the truest marker of success?

I realized then why that one little exchange with the teacher had struck an especially deep nerve. It was because I've always been one pulled by the teasing security that comes from not standing out from anyone else. Don't rock the boat. Wear what everyone is wearing. Behave. Don't ever offend. Fade safely into the background. I would've fit in really well in the group-think 1950s, I'm sure.

Blending in felt so comfortable. Over the course of many years, I began to realize that finding solace in not being an individual is a sure sign of insecurity. And then I'd remember messages I'd heard at church...those verses about God's people being peculiar. Yeah, that's the word used. Peculiar. Strange. Odd. Unusual. While I've always hated sticking out, being a person of faith is supposed to mean being very much set apart. It's an extension of who I am; of who I choose to be.

There is nothing very brave or noteworthy about being exactly like everyone else. And emulating everyone around me is somehow acknowledging that I don't have anything to offer...

...that he doesn't have anything in him that's wonderful, in the way he's set apart.

I refuse to believe that.

And so I will let that comment roll off my shoulders rather than linger. I know what she was trying to say. She was impressed with how well Ethan has adjusted. I am too.

I also know that he will always be different. That we can't just play a game of keeping up appearances. Any of us. We were made for more than that.


Emily @ Words I Wheel By said...

This line really resonated with me: "When, I wondered, did blending in become the truest marker of success?" You're so spot on! Blending in and "normalcy" are far too often considered the only path to acceptance, when in fact we should be focusing on acceptance no matter what. Glad to have discovered this post via Love That Max :)

Elise Hopkins (Kids Included Together) said...

Wow. This is so powerful. Thank you so much for opening up and sharing this experience with us. As a future special educator and advocate for inclusion, I feel like this teacher totally missed the point of inclusion. It is not to make sure our diverse learners "blend in". It's to teach all kids to value diversity and celebrate all of our differences. It's to show them the value of being their true unique selves and loving people who are different from them. I hope that my future students know that they can be their true selves. I heard an awesome quote once, "Normal is a setting on a washing machine." Normal isn't a true goal anyone should want. No one wants to be ordinary. Let's instead celebrate what makes us each extraordinary.

Deb said...

I'm so glad this is resonating with others, and if it makes a difference for other kids down the road, that is wonderful! It's amazing because the teacher who made the comment really is fantastic, and truly cares about her students. She just, as you said, misses the point of what inclusion should truly be.