Saturday, February 7, 2009

A statement of the obvious

I was reading another autism blog put out by Storkdok titled Peers are key for autistic kids, researcher says. This seems so obvious now, but sixteen years ago when David was starting kindergarten, I had to stumble across it like it was a tree root in the dark.

My son, David, is easygoing. He seldom complains. He is not moody. He is takes instructions well. Yet as I mentioned in a previous posting, Starting Early Intervention, David did not do well when he was put into a new situation with new people without being introduced to it first. For me that meant that I had to take off from work, bring David to school and introduce him to the class. I still find it difficult to explain to adults what autism means and how it affects David. I dreaded trying to explain it to the 5 year olds in David’s kindergarten class. It made me want to find a black hole to hide in. Yet it had to be done - lucky me.

I called David’s kindergarten teacher and explained why I wanted to take David into kindergarten and introduce him to the situation. She took it a step further and suggested that I introduce him to the class. My daughter, Lisa and my son, Sean lived with David. They understood who he was and what was different about him. None of the children in the kindergarten class would understand any of this. I had often failed to find the words to tell adults anything about David. I had no inkling about what to tell these children. Yet it made sense. These children needed a level of understanding about David and I was the best candidate for the job. I hung up the phone wishing I was more talented – talented enough that talking in front of the kindergarten class was easy or talented enough that I could have talked my way out of it. Fortunately, I was not talented enough to talk my way out of it and I was not talented enough to even try to explain more than what five year olds were ready to understand.
On David’s first day of kindergarten, I took him by the hand and led him to his class. I stood with his kindergarten teacher while the rest of the class wandered in. When the bell rang, his teacher introduced David and then introduced me to explain about having an autistic boy as a classmate. The class gathered around in a semicircle and I sat on the floor with David in my lap. I introduced David as my son and asked if any of them had ever heard of autism. There were blank stares all around. (Sixteen years ago autism was almost unheard of. Now everyone knows somebody with autism.) I explained to them that David could talk, but not easily. David sometimes liked to hum, but it is easy to get him to do something else. David would try to be by himself, but they could still be his friend. I did my best to keep it simple. This was a good choice since I have often found myself overwhelming others in my discussions about autism. The children responded well with questions that showed that they were interested.

I was finally done and David raises his hand, pointing his index finger in the air and exclaims, “Superbaby!” It was incongruous and it surprised everyone.

One of the girls in the class laughed and said, “You’re funny.”

I was dismayed at the time, but looking back it was just what was needed. At that moment David was accepted by his peers and class went well for David during his kindergarten year. David was assigned a friend. He got to be very close to this boy. When this boy was sick one day, David was despondent. Afterward, each of the children was cycled in and out of that role once a week. This kept David from being dependent on a single person in the class.

David learned a lot about socialization from his classmates and they learned from him about what it is to be autistic. Now it seems obvious. I cannot see children learning about how to socialize with other children if there are no other children around for them to socialize with. Why would autistic children be any different? The title of the referenced article is a correct as it is obvious. Peers are key for autistic kids, researcher says.

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