Friday, September 21, 2012

Sometimes, They're Just Being Kids

Last year at Ethan's old school, every day at drop-off, I would watch. Mrs. H. was in charge of corralling the kids, of making sure every preschooler and kindergartner got to where they were supposed to be going (without running!). She was a pro. I miss Mrs. H., who is now a para at Ethan's school. I believe she knew the name of every child and possibly every parent in the school.

One thing I always noticed about Mrs. H. is that she enjoyed saying hi to the lines of kindergartners shuffling off the bus and down the hallways. The thing is: most of them didn't answer back. Most of them barely looked her way. In response, she did absolutely nothing. She didn't stop them and say, "Excuse me, Makayla? I said hello. What do we say when people greet us?" She didn't force them to answer. She just smiled as they marched on by.

I've had a couple of eye-opening conversations over the last few days. Both were with speech therapists: one at CCMC, where Ethan is going to be starting up speech and possibly a social skills group again, and the other was with Mrs. D., his speech therapist at school.

Both of them surprised me by commenting that Ethan, save for a few syntax errors, is technically pretty on par for speech for his age. Mind you, I didn't say on par for social interactions, for using speech socially, for verbal reasoning. Just plain, straight-out speech. Still, that surprised me. He's going to start a social group at school two days a week around lunchtime with kids in kindergarten, because that's where he's at (Ethan is technically old enough to be in kindergarten in this state, although he would have been a very young kindergartner).

I thought about how many times I look at Ethan and automatically see the deficits. I assume he's behind in so many areas. I don't see him that often in a setting with other kids, and I'm not too often around other kids his age, so I forget. I hear his stumbling over a word or questions out of left field and sometimes assume so quickly that a kid his age would be past that point. I see the meltdown and just chalk it up to his social immaturity, that another kid his age probably wouldn't be doing that. I watch him play with just one toy and want to just be around me and and completely dismiss the fact that Anna has always been the one to play with one or two toys, and that for many years she hated playing alone and preferred hanging out with me in the kitchen.

This is so wrong.

In the hallways at pick-up time this year at the end of the day, teachers say bye to Ethan. There are about 150 other kids rushing by and the noise and general chaos is pretty overwhelming. He usually doesn't hear or doesn't answer. There's just too much going on. And yet I've found myself growing annoyed, thinking that he's been taking speech for years and darnit, by now he should be able to say hi and bye.

Mrs. D. spoke to that the other day, when we were meeting. Some of her kids on the spectrum, she said, are so stressed by every person, every paraprofessional, every teacher, every therapist, they pass in the hallways expecting and sometimes forcing them to say hi, that they shut down and stress out.

"We expect so much of them," she said. "We expect hellos when we don't even expect them from the typical kids."


I thought of how many times I've gotten in Ethan's face, speaking in "therapy voice." I thought again of the interactions I've seen, the way all kids act like kids, like individuals, typical or not. They don't follow the script of any social skills curriculum. I thought of the way I must remember: my child is not a robot, and he's not a walking diagnosis. My child is just a kid. What a disservice it is if I don't see him as that first.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yes, yes, yes. Such an important reminder. Just this weekend I saw the very same thing when the new pastor approached my *typical* child for a greeting. She dropped her head, wouldn't make eye contact, mumbled etc. And though I did not like her behavior at all and told her, I concluded she was being shy when it struck me that maybe just maybe Rhema feels shy or overwhelemed so much of the time.