Small talk…the necessary evil of survival in parenthood. Some conversations start out of politeness. Others out of a dislike of the uncomfortable quiet between acquaintances. Regardless of why we engage in it, chances are that we do..and that it can lead to awkwardness…especially so when a child has special needs.
The following exchange often occurs:
Do you have a child at P.S.#3?
Mmm, hmm. I do.
I thought so. What grade?
My son is a 2nd grader. His name is Jake. And you?
Oh, ok. Yes, my (insert child here) is in (insert grade). Just Jake, or any other kids?
Yes. I have 2 other boys. A 5 y.o. and a 2 1/2 y.o.
Oh, wow. 3 boys?! Is your 5 y.o. in kindergarten…or?
Yes, he is…but at P.S.#1.
(Insert confused face here.) Oh, really? (So desperately trying to figure out why 5 y.o. isn’t at our “home” school.)
Yeah. Tate is in the Early Childhood Kindergarten Program. It’s special ed.
Oh. (Non-verbal cues indicate curiosity. I feel the need to explain.)
He has Autism. He needs the extra attention and therapies, as well as the aides and inclusion setting.
Ahhh…I see. (Some people end the convo. Some smile, nod, and change the subject…or wait for me to do it so they can flee the discomfort. Occasionally a parent has a comment about Autism.)
I know I don’t owe anyone an explanation. I just feel like I should provide one.
I hope that one day I stop feeling so awkward about these conversations…Tate isn’t a problem, he isn’t carrying the plague, he hasn’t done anything wrong. I need to remember that this is the best way to get Tate a fair and balanced education…and it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks or says.
But, even though this has been our reality for a few years now, the feeling of being different, of having a child who isn’t typical, it still makes me feel awkward…and I just wish it wouldn’t.