Little Man’s speech therapist called this morning. Her message said she had an idea. She’s young and cute in an adorable kind of way. I liked her the minute I met her. Her sister is autistic. She comes at this from a few perspectives. It put me immediately at ease.
I’ve mentioned Little Man’s school is new. It’s new as in brand-new. They opened their doors his first day of school a few weeks ago. It’s more an elementary extension, covering grades 4-6 this year, 4-7 next, and capping out at 4-8. There are less than 200 students. And it’s all very innovative. Put that aside for a moment.
I called the speech therapist back and after the niceties, she asked point-blank if Little Man knows he’s autistic. He does know that. He knows the word applies to him, is what makes him different. I told her that, and that he is always very interested in stories, news segments, and articles about autism and autistic people. Does he fully know what it means? I’m not entirely sure. He’s a wicked smart cookie. I’m sure he understands on some level. He does know it’s a difference in his brain, and not anything “wrong” with him.
Going back to the school being innovative…..they’re all about choice, project based learning, design thinking, creativity, collaboration, empathy. Knowing this, she suggested a project for his class, involving a book a young man with the same name as my Little Man wrote when he was in school to help his classmates understand what it was like to be autistic. Do you see where I’m going with this? Do you see how awesome this could be? One of Little Man’s biggest worries is kids will treat him differently, make fun of him, exclude him because of his differences. Right now, those differences are blatantly obvious. But maybe, if they understood what it’s like to be autistic, they would understand him better, be more accepting and inclusive. And the entire school would then benefit, not just for autistic kids but for any child who doesn’t fit the mold. This, my friends, is awesome. I’ll do whatever I can to see this project of hers to fruition, not just because my precious child will benefit, but because every student there will benefit.
One of the things we fight so much for is acceptance. Just because he falls under the special education umbrella does not mean he is less. He is just different. Just because things overwhelm him, resulting in meltdowns and outbursts, does not mean he should be feared or shunned. Just because he wears headphones, takes breaks, goes to the social worker and speech therapist does not mean he isn’t as smart as any other kid in that classroom. Acceptance and inclusion….this is what it’s about. If he can participate in explaining what it’s like to be autistic…that would be huge for him. If that means the next time he loses it in the middle of class, the child next to him reaches out rather than turning away…..we’ve won.
This is what we needed today – a bright light in the middle of a bunch of deep, dark.