Trust me, I really, truly do want my kid to learn to follow the rules we adults set for children in school about sitting still, sitting up straight, being quiet, paying attention, waiting in line, waiting one's turn, following directions in order, focusing on the task at hand, putting things away in their proper place, etc., etc., etc.
In fact, before I became a parent to this particular child, I had very firm notions about how, through the application of strict (but not too strict), rational (but not too rigid), consistent, enlightened, loving discipline at home, I would produce a superior school citizen, who unfailingly said please and thank you, shared playdough equanimously, lettered his own name neatly in crayon at the top of each paper, bussed his own tray at lunchtime, and could pronounce words like equanimously on the first try.
Well, at least I succeeded with that last one.
You see, I am a good parent, with good intentions. I do believe in discipline and in hard work and respect. I understand that most, at least, of your classroom rules exist for a reason. And I sure would like for my child to be able to follow them.
My kid is smart. Really smart. Gifted-smart. He's playful. He's funny. He's kind to other people. He sure does look like a typical child. And heaven knows, I have prayed since the moment I first noticed there was something amiss in reactions to the world that he would just act like what he looks like. A normal kid.
But since his diagnosis, I've had to learn to accept that sometimes he literally can't.
It's not his fault his brain doesn't work in an ordinary way. It's not his fault that when he hears a vacuum cleaner start up in a distant hallway, his nervous system triggers the same alert response that a fire engine siren would cause in another child, and he suddenly can no longer concentrate on his writing lesson. It's not his fault that in a bustling room full of chattering children, he can't always filter signal from noise enough to hear your directions, and sometimes fails to follow them.
It's not his fault that when faulty messages from his vestibular sense leave him with a poor understanding of where his body is in space, he has difficulty figuring out how to hold a pair of scissors properly, or where to direct his crayon on the paper. It's not his fault that his nervous system gets confused and tells him he's off balance when he's climbing a ladder, causing him to freeze halfway up to the slide.
It's not his fault that after running around on the playground or in gym class, trying to keep up with children whose motor planning skills are literally years ahead of his, his compromised senses are so confused that he feels compelled to spin around or shake his head before he can sit still. It's not his fault that he fidgets when he does sit, because he can feel the rivets in the back of his school chair the entire time he is sitting.
It's not his fault that he can't eat well or quickly in a crowded lunchroom where he can't not hear every single conversation happening around him, and can't not smell every last ingredient in everyone else's food.
I know that people can't see, on the surface, just what is different about him when they first meet him. Not in the way you would see a difference of ability in a child who was wearing a hearing aid or sitting in a wheelchair. But that doesn't mean the difference isn't there.
And when you, as a teacher, fail to acknowledge that difference, you are failing him.
And the last thing I want is for a brilliant child to feel like there's no point in trying at school because, in your eyes, he can't do any of the little things right.
It's not that I want him to get some sort of extra-special consideration. I just want him to get the same consideration any child with a professionally diagnosed medical problem would get.
I put my child in a mainstream school despite the fact that I knew he would have difficulties in a typical classroom — despite the fact that I had been told by competent medical professionals that he would have difficulties in a typical classroom — precisely because I DON'T want to coddle him. Because I know that the world won't coddle him.
I want him to understand that if something is harder for him than it is for everyone else, that means he'll just have to try harder. He's a smart kid — really smart, gifted-smart — and I know he can do really well in school, eventually, if we all try.
But that's just it — we all have to try. He has to and I have to and you have to try, too. You have to try to see that he is trying. That he wants to learn. That he loves learning. That he wants to behave. That he wants to show respect. That he wants to get along well with you, and with the other children in his class.
That he knows he is different. That he wants, more than anything else in the world, to be able to act like a typical child. And the effort he expends, every day, to do just that — to do it for himself, for me, for you — is exhausting him.
I know your job is hard. But so is his.
Cut him some slack.