I have been helping my neighbor by watching her two kids in the mornings before school. Their childcare situation fell apart, and I don’t mind watching the kids for a half hour before school. It will be nice once the weather gets a bit warmer and we can spend more of the time outside than inside…but we have been doing well since January.
Today, the kiddos had gotten out the door, and I was putting my coat and gloves on so that I could join them. My neighbor’s son was having a hard time getting ready. He seemed very disorganized. I helped him get his stuff together. As he paced back and forth in the hallway while I fixed his coat sleeves, which he always seems to flip inside out and upside down, he stopped in front of our “mud room” door and looked at the artwork. He asked about a piece that Cole had done at preschool. It was a bear, and on the bear, Cole’s teacher had printed out his name. Cole then had to write it himself on the following three lines. Cole, for all of his fine motor prowess, just does not have any use for writing. It’s been a battle for the past two years. Thankfully, we are starting to see an end to the battle, as Cole is starting to write his name much better. It is very clear on the paper whose name it is.
“Whose is that?”, he asked me.
“It’s Cole’s. See, his name is printed on there and then he had to write it three times.”
“Oh, was it like a test?”, he wondered aloud.
“No. It was a worksheet. In preschool, most kids are still working on learning to write their names.”
“That’s easy…writing your name. I can do that no problem”, he stated proudly.
“Of course you can! You’re a first grader.”
“Yeah. But there might be first graders who can’t write their names. Like, we had a kid in my class who didn’t know how to do it.”
“Really?”, I asked. “I hope that he or she can do it now.” I handed him his coat, and waited as he zipped it up. (I’m mean and make sure everyone is fully bundled!!)
“Oh, yeah. But, like, I bet autistic first graders can’t write their names. Like Tate, right?”
“Um, no. Maybe some autistic children cannot write their names, but Tate learned how to write his name in preschool. He still has to practice, but he can do it.”
“Oh. I thought maybe he couldn’t. So, how did Tate get autistic?”
“He was born that way. It’s the way his brain works. Kind of like how he has brown hair. It’s just the way it is.”
He looked at me, quizzically, “You know, my dad…my dad said that sometimes when you get older and you have autism, you can get cured of it.”
“Well, no…You can’t cure autism. It’s the way a brain works. Tate will always be autistic. However, as an autistic person gets older, they often have ways to cope with the things that they find hard, and they are often able to do many things that everyone else does. Or they learn what works for them, and they stick with that. They try to find what makes them happy.”
“Oh. I see.”
“Cool. Do you have any more questions?”
“No. I’m ready to go out.”
And with that, we were on with our day. Sometimes I still struggle with these types of questions from children. How much do I say? What do I say? Hopefully by having these little conversations, and having interaction with Tate, our neighbor’s kids will see that he’s different, but not less. He follows his own path, but it’s not “the wrong” path…just his path. And I hope that with the awareness comes the acceptance that as long as people are happy, who cares how they get there.