Safe Places & Safe Spaces

A couple weeks ago I blogged about our experience in the transition from Middle School to High School.  I was (and still am) SO SO SO impressed by our Assistant Principal.  I affectionately refer to him as Principal Snapple…check that post here.

At the end of that post I promised to write about our very first 504 meeting.  I’m all for holding that promise, so here we go.

We’re beginning a new chapter in this life.  Off the IEP, onto the 504.

One of my favorite moments in Tucker’s educational process is gathering teachers in a common place and telling them the story of Tucker.  One thing becomes abundantly clear…

Like autism itself, his story is so different.

Different than ‘other kids’ who have autism.
Different than ‘other kids’ who are neurotypical.

This makes it difficult.  Difficult to explain.  Difficult to advocate.  Difficult to persuade.

Maybe we’ve done too well?  He’s developed these coping strategies really well. REALLY, REALLY well…so well that others may not believe anything is different. He seems so…um…get ready for it…I hate using this word…normal (insert *cringe* here).

But, he’s anything but normal –  he’s remarkable.

So, there I sat in a room full of teachers – and it’s odd.  It’s odd because I’m also a teacher and a researcher and an advocate…and (most of all) a mom. Managing those tensions in my life can, at times,  prove to be difficult.  A constant state of push and pull between who I am in that space in life.  My brain begins to swirl.

As a teacher…Don’t put another thing on their plate – they already have so much.
As a researcher…Don’t fill the time with talk of proprioceptive and interoceptive challenges – these are busy, busy folks, stay on point.
As an advocate…Don’t expect them to care about autism as much as you care about autism.
As a mom…Don’t cry. Seriously.  Don’t cry.

In these difficult moments I often channel something wise told to me by my parents or grandparents.  Something soothing…something that will bring clarity.  My dad often said, ‘fair is not equal, and equal is not fair.’  The older I get, the more I experience life with Tucker I realize this. It reminds me of this picture…

fairandequal

(Okay…let’s be honest.  Anyone who knows Tuck will giggle at this picture – you know, because he’s like a giant. So don’t take this picture as a literal representation of his needs)

He simply needs a boost.  With that boost he is absolutely capable of doing everything that EVERY. OTHER. STUDENT. is doing at that school.  Period.

So, what did I do?

I told Tucker’s story. Margaret Wheatley wrote, “You can’t hate someone whose story you know.”   I believe this wholeheartedly.  If people would simply provide space in their hearts and minds to hear and feel his story, they would understand.  They would understand where we’ve been, how we’ve arrived here, and the place in which we currently exist.  When we finished I asked them, above all things to…

Provide a safe place, a safe space for him.  A place or him to feel loved, wanted, and needed – and a space for him to continue to grow.  

I left that meeting with hope.  I left that meeting believing that his teachers are those blocks of fairness.  I left that meeting knowing those blocks of  support would allow him to see the world like everyone else.  I left that meeting smiling and reassured.

And…for the most part, it’s been true.  For the most part, these teachers are reaching out when they have ideas.  They are reaching out when something seems ‘off.’  They are working at constructing those boosting blocks.

Most of all?  Their emails begin like this,

“First, just let me tell how much I enjoy Tucker…”
“I have to tell you that I think Tucker is very funny…”
“That kid of yours?  He’s so very kind…”

That is how I know safe places and safe spaces abound…it’s also how I know they will be an important part of Tucker’s next chapter.  This chapter will be full of new thoughts and exciting revelations.  A chapter that will end with what will be the beginning of the rest of his life.

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