Last year, in 6th grade, Tucker wanted to teach his classmates about autism. He didn’t want to just talk – he wanted a way to help them understand. So we did lots of thinking about how we could show them. How could we make them understand? Then Estelle came into the picture and she wanted to help.
Standing in the kitchen, Tucker asked me how I explain it to people – to make them understand. I went back to the colander. The original explanation that our fantastic OT told me (See Day # 6 – The Colander). I got the colander out of my cupboard and used it to tell the story. The same story the OT had told me years ago. “That’s how I tell the story Tucker, because it’s SO easy to understand.”
He loved the story – Estelle thought the story was awesome.
He said – “Let’s tell everyone that story, but let’s actually do it. We can put glasses of water through the colander. Sometimes it can go through and sometimes it needs to get trapped.”
Estelle said, “You need to use color.” She looked at Tucker and said, “You know how when there is too much going on – like too much noise, too many people, too many voices and then you close your eyes or you move to another room and I come to check on you? That’s what it is right? It’s like everything mixes together. We need color to show mixing.”
He replied to her with a smile and a nod.
My heart was about beating out of my chest.
Together, we developed an experiment. We took seven glasses of water (representing seven senses) and Estelle dyed each glass a different color. First, we talked about the colander as being our brain trying to learn something – maybe it was writing a paragraph, maybe it was learning equations, it could even be learning a new play in football. Then we put a colander over a bowl. We talked about each of the seven senses (in hyper/hypo) language and how neurotypicals (NT) (Day #35 – I’m a Neurotypical) could sort out all of the sensory input and still focus to learn. All of the water went through – no problem.
Then, we took a piece of saran wrap and poked a few holes in it. We put the saran wrap in the colander and explained how that is like Tucker’s brain. Tucker’s brain when it’s trying to learn. So, NT brains can just filter it all out…as we poured water into the plastic-lined colander it struggled to strain into the bowl. Instead of steady streams we had drips.
Eventually, all of the colors swirled together and it looked ‘muddy.’ The muddy is exactly what sometimes happens when he’s trying to learn. That is why sometimes he gets it on the first try (if all is perfect in ‘his world’) and other times it takes 4-5 or more tries.
We asked his teachers if we could come and present to his class. Not only did they want us to present to their class – they wanted us to present to other classes as well. Then Estelle wanted to present to her class.
As we lined the colander in front of 25 of his peers he looked at me, smiled, and said, “I got it mom. You hold the strainer.”
My young teacher said, “So when Mrs. Skinner is trying to teach us something I may get stuck because
the fan is too loud (he pours the water marked auditory)
my clothes feel funny (he pours the water marked touch)
the lights are too bright (he pours the water marked visual)
I can smell lunch cooking (he pours the water marked smell)
I have a weird taste in my mouth (he pours the water marked taste)
I cannot stay still (he pours the water marked proprioceptive)
or my chair might feel crooked (he pours the water marked vestibular).”
He looks at the water, looks at the class, and says, “And that is how my brain feels. So there are times when we’re trying to learn something and my brain is just all confused and then it hurts. Then I may get grouchy or yell or leave the room. I promise I’m not doing it to be mean or hurtful, I just have to because my head feels like it’s going to explode.”
Says a classmate, “Oh, it’s like a computer freezing when you have too many programs and windows open. It just can’t take anymore so it just freezes and shuts down. Your brain is like a computer with too much going on.”
What a wonderful moment – to watch my son teach his classmates about what it’s like to be him.
What a wonderful moment – to watch his classmates and teachers surround him with love and understanding and thank him for helping them understand.
That is the point of advocacy, for all of us in this family. This is why we talk, talk, and talk more about what is happening. Autism is not silent in our home.
One day Tucker will leave the nest and of all my hopes – my greatest is that I have taught him the language (See Day # – 43 Tape Recorder) he will need to continue his self-advocation.
I think we’re on the right path….