It’s all about teachers. Martin had a successful week at pee-wee sports camp because the teacher wasn’t concerned if Martin’s attention sometimes wandered. He didn’t feel threatened if Martin didn’t participate in every game. The teacher simply wanted Martin to be safe and have fun. He found ways to invite Martin into the games. He got my kid to do between 65-75% of the activities. For a family that is often left wondering if Martin will get kicked out of activities, this was a big success.
For a long time, I thought that being able to deal with autism was a personality thing. It seemed to me that some people can go with the flow and others cannot. Some folks can tolerate difference and chaos while those things trouble others. Unfortunately, I understand myself to be in the latter category. In my daily battle with frustration and impatience, I wondered if poor old Martin had gotten himself the wrong mom.
Over time, I have come to see that there are some people who – just by disposition – can deal with the uncertainties of behavior and interaction that being with an autistic person can present. Martin’s sports camp teacher seems like one of those people. But I think the rest of us can become more like those people. We just have to have a reason to try and chance to practice. Of course, I have both. I have a kid who I love and who isn’t moving out any time soon. I think others have to be persuaded.
A case in point is Martin’s most recent Bible school teacher. Our last week in Virginia, Martin attended a second Bible school. Unlike his prior experience, this one didn’t go so well. Of course, Martin hadn’t changed, but the expectations were different. The teacher wanted Martin to do what everyone else did all the time. It stressed her out when he didn’t. Instead of saying, “It’s Bible school not astrophysics class,” the teacher got into conflicts with Martin. She created power struggles over such pressing matters as storytime.
Martin only lasted half a week at this Bible school. And I have to admit that I was pretty aggravated about how things turned out. But I hadn’t taken the time to give this teacher a reason for cutting Martin some slack. I hadn’t done enough to let her know it was OK if Martin didn’t come home with a successful pet rock craft or a Bible verse memorized. And because I didn’t let her know that is was good enough simply to have Martin along for the ride, she had no reason to adjust her expectations and try to accommodate him. Next time.
The reason can never be that we need autistic people to be just like the rest of us. We can never fool ourselves that they will (or want) to us rather than themselves. Rather, the reason must be that the world is big enough for all of us, that to leave out the autistic kid is get to the end of the Bible school week and be missing something.
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