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Sharing with the Class

October 16, 2011

“I was wondering if it would be okay with you if we tell the other kids in the class.”  I froze and felt a huge lump move from the top of my throat down through my gut. Troy’s kindergarten teacher wanted to tell the rest of his class that he has Asperger’s Syndrome. Those few seconds before I responded tested every fear and insecurity I had ever had. As a kid I had always been the “nerd” in the class. I had always been the one that got picked on for being a little different. It was the thing I most feared for my own children- to get bullied, and I don’t have autism, something that can significantly compound the bullying issue. Troy knew he had Asperger’s.  To him, it was “the special way my brain works.” In many ways, he views it as a strength. The last thing I wanted to do was make him feel like it was something he should hide or be ashamed of. That said, I didn’t want him labeled either. What would the other kids say to him if they knew he was different? What would they say about him? Would they pick on him? Would they avoid him? 

“It’s difficult to explain to the other kids in the class why Troy does some of the things he does, or why we might let him get away with a little more than they do,” his teacher interrupted my panicked thoughts.  I’m sure this may have seemed like an easy question for someone outside of my head. “Do you think the other kids will be able to understand?” I asked.  “I do.”   Now, I have to tell you, I trust this teacher completely.  This conversation was only a few weeks in to the school year, and probably only about a month after we had received Troy’s diagnosis. I was very new at this whole autism mom thing.  Trying to act cool about it, I know I trembled as I gave my permission. I asked her if I should be there, and she said no, they could handle it.   They would tell the other kids the next day at school. 

I didn’t sleep that night.  Every insecurity I had ever had as a child came back to haunt me, but in a much worse way because now it was coupled with fear for my child. I couldn’t let Troy know how nervous I was or even what I was nervous about. I didn’t want him to think that this special gift he has is anything that anyone would want to keep hidden or to be ashamed of.   But the teacher was right, he was different and the other children in his class were starting to notice.  Sometimes I envy those parents of children with visible disabilities. I know that sounds awful, but nobody expects the child in the wheelchair to get up and be able to run just as fast as the other kids.  But most people do expect my children to be able to jump into a conversation and keep it going, or to be able to play with toys the same way their peers do. When someone understands a disability, they adjust their expectations, which is sometimes a great thing, though other times it can be frustrating as well.  My son cannot handle a shopping trip. He just can’t. The sensory experience is too overwhelming for him. But what the other shoppers see is a badly behaved or spoiled little boy, because he looks just like everyone else, but he’s not. I prayed so hard that night that we were making the right decision. Would the other kids accept him on his level?  What would the other parents think? Would they think I had brought some sort of disruption into their perfect little private school?  Would they resent our family as though we had somehow chosen this path for our children? Finally, morning came and I ushered my boy off to school.

I cleaned the house frantically that morning- it’s what I do to distract myself when I’m nervous. Finally it was time to pick Troy up from his half-day at school. I was terrified. The teacher came out to me and told me how it went.  Troy went off to his speech class. While he was there, Mrs. M (his teacher) and Ms. S (his principal) sat his kindergarten class down. They explained, using some of the pamphlets I had given them, that Troy has Aspergers Syndrome. That he wants to be friends with all of them, but he doesn’t know how to ask them to play. That he might growl at them like a dog instead of saying hello. “Oh, he did that to me.”  “Yeah, me too…”  his classmates started to comment. The conversation went on until Mrs. M and Ms. S. were certain there were no more questions.  Then, when Troy came back from speech, each child in the class, independently and without prompting came up to him and asked him to be their friend. Troy came home that day from school and proudly stated to me that he now has 15 best friends. It was all I could do to keep the tears from flowing in front of  him. 

Since that day, I have had people question my decision to let the other kids in the class know about Troy’s diagnosis.  Only twice in two years has it come to my attention that another child has teased him at all about it, and that was usually a misunderstanding.  In my experience it has been those parents that are uncomfortable having to teach their children about another child’s disability that have questioned my decision. Troy should not have to hide his disability any more than the child in the wheelchair, than my daughter who wears hearing aids, glasses and uses a walker, or than the child who is blind and uses a walking stick.  My son has autism. He will always have challenges, but he will do great things.

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