Of all things – I am an advocate. I always have been. I love people, all people. Even people I don’t necessarily ‘like’ – I can spend hours trying to dissect their behaviors and rationalize in my head.
‘They are unkind because they have never felt ‘undeserved’ kindness.’
I just can’t bring myself to believe the worst in people, I must attribute rotten behavior to something else.
Having Tucker has amped this up to ridiculous proportions. I just have this thing about people and believing they should be able to accomplish and achieve and reach the same heights as their neighbor. I was reminded of that this weekend while watching Saving Mr. Banks. Yes, I’m behind the times – I had wanted to see the movie for quite some time and just got around to it. My favorite part of the movie? When Mrs. Travers gives the note to Ralph (her chauffeur for the week)…
Ralph: “Albert Einstein, Van Gogh, Roosevelt, Frida Kahlo” – What is this?
P.L. Travers: They all had difficulties. Jane can do anything that anyone else can do, do you understand?
P.L. Travers: Look on the back.
Ralph: [turns it over] “Walt Disney.”
P.L. Travers: Deficiencies in concentration and hyperactive behavior. Explains everything!
Jane, his daughter, was in a wheelchair. I don’t recall the movie ever explaining why – but Ralph does tell us enough about her to know that she is the apple of his eye.
In that moment, I felt like Ralph.
Always thinking, always reading, always researching, always trying something new – new ways to think, react, feel about what Tucker experiences. Always trying to figure out ‘why’ to poor behavior, reactions, and self-induced limitations.
Of all things most important to me? Teaching Tucker to be his own advocate – if I have failed at all other areas of parenting, this is my most important success. A fellow spectrum parent recently asked me, “When did you tell him?” Whew…that is quite the question. When do you tell your child that they, are in fact, different. What point is appropriate? What do you say?
When Tucker was in elementary school he got to go to Ms. O’Brien’s room. She was his Special Education teacher, but he didn’t really know that. Notice I used the words ‘got to go.’ I am, by nature, a word girl and try to select my language carefully. I decided early on that seeing Ms. O’Brien should never be a ‘have to’ it should always be a ‘get to.’ You GET TO have a special teacher. You GET TO have one on one time. You GET TO have a special place to go.
His Special Education classroom experience needed to be seen as a benefit, not a detriment. It was something he got to do…not some type of punishment.
One day, in 1st grade, he finally asked. I told him point-blank. “You have autism. It means that your brain works different from most children. It doesn’t mean you are less smart or smarter. It doesn’t mean you are better or worse. It simply means you are different, and different is good. We are all different. We all have different colored skin. We all have different colored hair. We all have different colored eyes. It’s just different, like every snowflake is different – but every flake is beautiful and sparkly in its own way.”
Yes, I really do talk like that. I know it can be annoying…but it’s my style.
Reaction #1: “Well, when did I catch that?”
I told him he didn’t catch it. It’s how he was born. It’s how God wanted his brain to be. Different, unique, and wonderful.
Reaction #2: “Do I take medicine to make it go away?”
You know how sometimes you have that moment that is so clear in your brain you could sketch it, put dialogue to it, and perform it in front of an audience with eerie precision? This was one of those moments. We were driving home from school. I pulled into the Casey’s parking lot. I stopped the car and put it into park. I took a deep breath and told myself to hold back the tears. I turned around and looked his straight in the eye. I calmly and logically answered him…
“No. It won’t ever go away. What we will do though is work together to help you achieve all that you can achieve. You can do everything that you want. Anything that you put your mind to. I will help you. We will do it together. Got it?”
He answered yes with a smile.
So, that’s where we are. Years before I heard Mrs Travers’ fateful words, “They all had difficulties. Jane can do anything that anyone else can do, do you understand?” I had said the same thing to Tucker. There will come a day that I cannot advocate for him and he will be on his own – and that transition must begin happening…about now. So tomorrow I’ll write about how that transition has been going….
Yes…with a smile. Yes, you can do anything that anyone else can do.