How to show others the positive side of Aspergers
don't always focus on the deficits
"Your son is the most manipulative child I have ever taught in my many years as an educator." This was the opening line at our very first parent teacher conference with my son's third grade teacher. Most parents would have jumped up, yelled at her and stomped to the principal's office. We did not, we were somewhat relieved. This woman was not looking at him as some poor disabled child who really belonged in a school for autistic children and she had to put up with him and us because we were in denial. She has him figured out. He would try to play his teachers and other adults around him to see what he could get away with. Most times because he was "labeled" in their eyes, they would fall for it and let him get away with doing anything he wanted such as not completing assignments that were quite easy for him to finish if he chose to do so.
This teacher was a breakthru for our child. Without her to set the tone of his years at this school, we believe his life would be drastically different. You see, she not only set the tone for what she would stand for academically with HIM, she laid down the law as to how the other children were to think of him and treat him.
We had come from a small, private school that we thought was the best place for our son at the time. The enrollment was low, it was a christian environment, and we were christians, and there were assistant teachers in grades PreK-1st. Therefore, no teacher would have to handle our son with 30+ children and no other adult to help. We were wrong. The preschool years would have gone well except that when his preK 3 teacher was absent one day, the subsitute teacher took it upon herself to announce to the principal and all who would listen that his was autistic because he handflapped. Now anyone who has the slightest education knows that many three year olds (he was young for his class plus a preemie) hand flap, and that does not mean they are autistic so she had no right to say that, plus it is illegal for a teacher to diagnose a student publicly in that manner. Granted, the handflapping had not gone unnoticed by us and the teacher. We had been undergoing testing at the time and because he was extremely advanced academically and could function well with the current teacher who was making his THREE year old experience about socialization as it should be, she felt no need to act since we were aware of the situation and were handling it.
That callous act of an inexperienced and quite frankly as it was to be proven later, terrible teacher was costly for our son. But then again, maybe it was a blessing in disguise. We were able to discover just how christian an environment this was. To be fair, most of the staff that worked with him was caring and wanted to help. We offered full acess to our doctors and therapists to assist in anyway possible. We were in the building helping, we had relatives on call as well, so none of the other children would be inconvenienced if extra attention had to be given to our son. In fact quite the opposite occurred. We noted that his class was filled with children who had major issues that were not being dealt with. Noone was hounding those parents to get their children help. So our people could not resist, we helped those kids because my son was so far ahead of everyone academically it was easy to shift your attention. It was only necessary to stop and make sure that he was behaving.
First grade was a nightmare for us. The teacher had made it clear to the principal several times that she did not want our son in her classroom. Never mind the fact that at 6 years old he read at a 6th grade reading level and do 8th grade math problems in his head. Her concern was that he was different. She had no tolerance for that. I was later to discover that she had many phobias and issues so he was one of her nightmare students. She wanted students who sat still all day and never said a word other than the correct answer. This was such an unrealistic expectation for any child never mind one with special needs. The principal wanted to give our child a chance, so as a response, the teacher did all she could to make sure our child was the subject of abuse and public ridicule so that she could prove her point that he did not belong in her class.
All this time, I thought the children in the class and their parents despised my son because she led us to believe that. So we hunted for a new place and happily found one. It took us until our son was in third grade, but gratefully his second grade teacher was opposite of the first grade teacher and he was somewhat healed as he headed off to his new school. When our son did not return to the old school, some of the parents contacted me and told me that they and their children in fact loved our son. The children focused on his intellect and his quirkiness. They did not look at his deficits as the teacher did. It was enlightening.
So as he entered the new school, we were frightened. Having being beaten down by this woman and others who had supported her meanness, we did not know what we were facing. But his third grade teacher told us the truth. She said that some of the children DID indeed start to make fun of the way he was self stimulating his nervous system the way asperger children will do at times. They were watching him lay in the bean bag chair she had set up for reading period and just look at the world atlas instead of listening to the math lesson. They were acting as though he was too "stupid" to be with them for the work. The teacher heard this and said "oh really? lets see...I will bet that he has done all of this work in his head while you have not even looked at the first part...." She called him to the board where in less than three seconds he was able to give a full explanation and answer to every single problem she had on the board. The children sat with their mouths open. She then began to ask him questions about history and other areas of study he was expert in, he kept talking. From that moment on, they accepted him. He was different from them, but he fit in, in his own way.
Whenever they had a group project, they knew that note taking or creativity was not his strong area, but research, memorization and presentation certainly were. They wanted him to be in their group, they knew they could count on him to do his share. They also enjoyed showing him what they knew, what they were strong in. He loved to dance, but was not very coordinated. When the class studied Ballroom dancing, I was amazed at the amount of girls who volunteered to be his partner, although there was a good chance they would get stepped on or be behind on the music counts. They accepted him because of the was his was PRESENTED to them. He was presented as someone special and extraordinary. Not as a burden or a disabled person. The teachers that followed that teacher in his elementary school were also phenomenal, as were his paraprofessionals. He completed Junior High on the Highest Honor Roll having gone through an honors program. He was accepted into one of the most prestigious High Schools in our city. He currently attends a wonderful high school and is enrolled in their honors program. First report card average: 97.56.
We will be forever grateful for the base he received in his elementary school. It erased the horror he suffered as a 6 year old being dehumanized by someone who has no business holding a teachers license. He has a place he still calls home and is welcomed back whenever he visits. He has a friend and ally in this third grade teacher who is still there speaking the truth whenever warranted and hopefully parents take it well and use it wisely. We are grateful to her and the rest of the staff in that school for the positive way they presented our son so that he was loved and respected amongst his peers. Thank you. If only everyone thought this way..............