Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Cast Aside

I have to tell you a secret. I have 17 kids that I am with almost the entire day. And I love them all, they are awesome, crazy, fun, annoying, silly, smart, wonderful little individuals. But to be completely honest I have a soft spot for the special needs kids. It's not to say that I don't love my other kids and show them all the care and respect that they definitely deserve, but I do feel more connected with the ones who need a bit more support. Sometimes I can't help but just pull one of them in for a hug. It's probably because I am a parent to a child with special needs, but I just can't help but feel something for them.

It hurts sometimes to see that the other kids just don't understand the Autistic boy, that sometimes they ignore him even when he is calling their names and tapping them on the shoulder because he would like to ask if he can play. Sometimes it drives me crazy when the ADHD one is racing around the room unable to sit still for two seconds, and falling off his chair everytime I turn around because he just keeps tipping it, but I love him. I love them for being themselves, and I wish sometimes that the others were more accepting, more understanding. I try to help them understand why their classmate repeated to them 4 times that they needed to be quiet during the story, and why he doesn't like when they do certain things or why he gets to have his own special toys. But I am finding it hard. How do I tell the other children that he is different?

I have done the whole my child is different than you because he can't see, but you are different than him because you have blond hair, and he has brown hair, or you are different because you are a boy and she is a girl. I have done the whole we are all different and unique thing, but I can't bring myself to do it with our Autistic boy. I don't know how to tell the other kids that Johnny* is different and that's why he gets special toys or that's why he gets to do different activities or why he repeats things sometimes. I usually just tell them that it's okay, they don't need to worry about it, he is just expressing himself in his own way and that is fine. Or that his toys are from home.. They know he is different, I can see it in their eyes and they way they treat him but they don't understand. And I don't want to alienate him and say in front of him how he is different than them or that he has Autism..

Yesterday I had one of our kids yelling out over and over "Jamie's dad is dead! Jamie's dad is dead! Did you know Jamie doesn't have a dad because he's dead?" of course I had to put a stop to that, because it's not a pleasant thing to be reminded of or to be yelling out across the room. But I also understand that these kids are five they are trying to figure out their world, they are learning new concepts and trying to understand them, and death is one of them. Luckily Jamie* wasn't extremely upset by the other kid screaming it out, but I wouldn't blame him if he had been upset. To come to the point I most definitely don't want my kids screaming across the room that Johnny is Autistic. And I am sure that at some point it would happen, plus how to explain what Autism is to a 4 or 5 year old?

In other words, someone help me please if you have some idea of how to handle this situation I would love to hear it. When it comes to blindness hey no problem, I can explain that one to the kids easy enough. But Autism is a pervasive developmental disorder that ranges and varies so much it's even hard for most adults to understand, let alone a child. I love these kids, I know it will take a lot more maturity and age for them to care about or feel the same way as I do about the special ones in our lives, but I want to start them down the right path now while they are young. I don't want them to be the teenagers who laugh at the special needs kids because they just don't get it.

*Not their real names obviously.


Stacie said...

Hsve you tried "Since We're Friends: An Autism Picture Book"
by Celeste Shally, David Harrington (Illustrator), and Alison Singer?

It might be great for a classroom discussion. I know they use this book in our special ed classes at the elementary level. I would also discuss your desire to address this to the other kids with the autistic child's parent to get her insight on the matter. Some parents are just more...challenging to work with, so it couldn't hurt to check it out with them before you talk about with your class.

Hugs. Our special needs kids need teachers like you in their lives.

Stacie said...

I follow a blog that may be helpful to you:

Ashley's Mom said...

I did a book for the children in Ashley's kindergarten class. I asked each student to tell me one thing that was special about them. And I included something special about Ashley. Seeing all those things in a book helped the class to realize (on some level that kids that age understand) that everyone has something special about them, and that everyone's special is different.

I did not emphasize the disability but rather the strengths of each child. The students without disabilities seemed at least to me more accepting of those with disabiltiies after the exercise.

Plus each student got a book with their name and picture in it :)

Karen said...

All I can offer is what I said to my own kids when they were curious. I talked about how people have different bodies (eye, hair, and skin color, height, build, gender) and that one of the things that could be different was our brains. Brains help us think, so since everyone has a different brain, everyone thinks in a different way. I might think blue is pretty and chicken tastes yummy, and you might think pink is pretty and chicken is yucky.

Johnny's brain is smart, but it works in a way that means he does things differently, like repeating words or phrases (and whatever other symptoms are obvious). His special toys are made to help him learn things that come easy for them. You might talk about how some people are good at playing ball, and some people aren't. But if you want to get good, you need to practice. Johnny's toys help him practice things like....

Corrie Howe said...

I was going to suggest there are a number of good books on the market to explain autism to siblings as well as classmates.