This is a post I didn’t ever think I would write. This blog is about teaching and learning. Somewhere along the way, teaching and learning collided with my life. When you become a parent, you see a whole different side to education. When you become a parent of a child on the autistic spectrum, you see a whole different side to education that you didn’t even know existed. You suddenly feel like you are “That parent.” That parent that people say “Well, if that child just had more discipline…” or “Her parents need to just lay down some rules.” I’ve heard it all. I’ve lived it all. In a crowded supermarket. At a birthday party. At the theme park. It’s as if people think a rule is going to remove autism from your child. It’s what makes you wish, every single day, that people would just understand your child and most of all, appreciate them for who they are and what they struggle with.
Our story is like many others, we knew something was different. We wanted the white picket fence and the 2 cute puppies playing in the yard, while our perfect family emerged from the house to go enjoy a day at the mall. But, then that mall was filled with Sensory Overload. The puppies? Their activity was too much noise and they caused meltdowns. The white picket fence? It became a place for our child to make patterns. We learned that our dream was just not the one we expected.
When you finally hear those words spoken by a doctor and get that diagnosis, you are relieved. Finally, someone is listening. Then you get consumed with worry. Then one day, those giant cracks that formed in your heart when you learned your child was truly different, are filled. When you find a teacher who loves your child the way you do? You feel like you owe them the world. When people complain about having too many birthday parties to attend? You know it’s not about that. It doesn’t make you better. It makes you appreciate everything on a deeper level.
When I look at my students now? I see them. I see them for exactly who they are. I’d like to believe I always did. But, somehow, I know that my daughter has taught me to be a better teacher, and person. I see kids who might be brilliant at math, but may need my help seeing the body language of others. I see kids who can read on a college level, but struggle with making friends. I also see their parents. More importantly, I know what they’ve been through.
I know struggles with doctors, therapists, with getting people to listen, with having your heart break into a million pieces because you are made to feel like you can’t “fix” your child.
But, there is nothing to fix. A child with autism is not broken. My daughter is exactly who she is supposed to be. You might have a child, or two, just like her in your classroom. It’s about knowing your students and understanding them for who they are. Educate yourself. Ask parents. Ask professionals. Ask the child. “How can I help?” Four little words that just might mean the world to someone else.
This post was written in honor of Autism Awareness Month and for the kids in our schools, classrooms, and hearts that just need understanding.