This year our PTO decided to do a walk-a-thon for our Fall fundraiser. I loved the idea, and offered to work one of the shifts during the time that Cole was in preschool. My shift was yesterday, and luckily, it was a gorgeous day outside–sunny, low 70’s, and breezy.
When I arrived, I signed in with the office, got my visitor sticker, and found the event organizer outside. She debriefed those of us who were working, and assigned our positions around the building where we could help the students. I got to remind students to walk and be quiet around the corner, as the 2nd grade classrooms were there with windows open during instruction. I could handle that!
We also got the procedure for aiding an injured student. Yes, even though it is a walk-a-thon, elementary students manage to get injured. Usually scraped up knees occur. She was saying how she was relieved that we all showed up for our shift, because the early shift was short 2 parents, and a child got injured, and it was chaos. A brief discussion ensued, and during that discussion, the identity of the accident victim came out. Three of us knew the child, and also knew of a condition that this child has, which causes poor motor control and clumsiness.
One of the moms mentioned that she knew the child as a toddler, and that the delays were evident then, and that the child did do Early Intervention (EI). It took forever for the child to get diagnosed, apparently. The pediatrician kept insisting that the child would catch up…it was “just a boy thing”. That mom, who has a neuro-typical son, said she hates it when anyone says something is a “boy thing”. I agreed. I mentioned my frustration with our pediatrician when Tate was young, and we were voicing concerns about his lack of speech, lack of coordination, his meltdowns, his inability to sleep through the night, his lack of socialization, etc, etc, etc.
I went on to clarify that Tate has Autism, and is currently in the instructional first grade classroom. The event organizer, whose son is in Jake’s class, looked at me wide-eyed. She had no idea that Tate is autistic. I mentioned that Tate didn’t talk until he was three, and that he was completely dysregulated until his EI speech therapist put us in touch with an OT who specialized in sensory disorder. One of the parents interrupted me.
“Oh, your son has Asperger’s.”
No. He has classic autism.
(Look of confusion.) “But he talks.”
Children with autism can talk. My son struggles with pragmatic language and using language appropriately, but he talks quite well. Too much sometimes. (Little laugh…and smile.)
(Blank/startled stare) “Oh..My nephew has Asperger’s, and we were told it was Asperger’s because he talks.”
There is a lot more to it…that’s why it’s a spectrum. My son functions well in a controlled environment, but he had delayed speech, social issues, sensory issues, motor delays, no pretend play, and so on. He does plenty of therapy to help him learn how to navigate in the typical world. This is why he’s in the instructional classroom…you know, self-contained.
Luckily this conversation segued into a conversation about the instructional (self-contained) classrooms at our school, and I felt less awkward as we discussed the different classrooms and how our district handles the self-contained program. The mom who tried to correct me about Tate’s diagnosis did apologize. I told her not to worry about it…that misunderstanding happens often. I wish I had encouraged her to read more, but I didn’t. Next time.
But, I will give myself a little credit. In the past, the people-pleaser in me would have let her just correct me and we’d go on. Not any more. Autism is so misunderstood, and as a parent of a child who has it, I want to make sure that I don’t allow those misunderstandings to continue. I will always speak up for Tate and for the other 1 in 88 children who have autism. They deserve no less.