Saturday, May 09, 2015

Haircut Day

Today, it’s a Saturday in May, and I am spending most of it grading. Deadlines, you know. But I needed a break, so I thought I would write about last Saturday. As weekend days go, it also had a singular, very focused purpose: getting my son a haircut.

Now, you need to understand that my son is eleven and has mild autism and has been growing his hair long because he wants it that way. And my husband and I have been walking a tricky tightrope of give-and-take, since hubby isn’t super into the boy having his hair long (though he is coming around somewhat), and I feel very strongly that I want him to be able to have power of this aspect of his appearance and his life.

First things first, though: we are all about the hygiene. Both my husband and I work with children. Other people’s children. Sometimes smelly children. I have leaned over many a pre-teen head to give guidance at a computer and had to hold back on the retch I’ve felt welling up. I have a super-sensitive olfactory gift, you see. Another aspect of hygiene is appearance. Neither my husband nor I can handle an unkempt appearance. We just can’t. Don’t try to fix us; we’re fine.

So we have set up rules about bathing and washing hair daily, brushing hair several times a day, using deodorant, brushing (and flossing and rinsing) teeth, and so forth. It’s hard enough to have autism. Being the smelly, dirty, weird kid is especially hard to bounce back from. And we start middle school in a few months. People with Asperger’s and autism are especially prone to a condition called “not giving a damn about personal hygiene.” So we’re vigilant, to say the least.

And so we find ourselves on a lovely Saturday with a boy who doesn’t want anyone coming near his hair, and me promising we won’t do anything drastic. And then it occurred to me: this isn’t just about being eleven and wanting to exert some control over a matter of one’s personal style. Getting a haircut is a rather sensory experience on a lot of levels. A person you don’t know very well touching your head. Loudly buzzing clippers right next to your ears. Strange smells and foreign noises while you sit on a chair that spins and goes up and down under someone else’s control.

On the drive to my hair dresser’s salon, I asked Cameron if there was more than one reason he was not happy about getting his hair cut. I told him that I understood that he wants to be old enough to decide about his own hair, which he agreed was part of what upset him. I also asked him if maybe all the sensory experiences I just described were upsetting to him.

Yes. Also, the last time his Dad took him for a haircut, the lady cut off more than even my husband told her to. So not only does the boy have no control, even his father can’t protect him from too extreme a cut.

We’ve done most of Cameron’s haircuts at home, with clippers. That is no longer an option or something we will consider. Scissors only. And neither hubby nor I are qualified to wield those.

I brought Cameron to my own hairdresser, who has been doing my hair since before he was born, I think, and whom he knows and at least respects and likes. I had already texted her in detail about what was up. She was really great. She explained to him, reassured him, and was really gentle and calming the entire time.

He still silently wept through the entire ordeal, but that wasn’t her fault. 

All we did was have her trim some dead ends and do a small amount of layering to the top and sides, so it would fall more neatly when he combs or brushes it. She complimented the length he had grown it, and she told him how much she likes how the back gets curly. I couldn’t have asked for a better performance by her, emotionally and professionally. His hair does look really nice. Most people can’t even tell it was cut, just that it looks neater.

But the build-up, the ride there, the talking him down during and after, and the therapeutic discussions and choices made for the remainder of the day were hard work and they were very draining. I negotiated my way through getting him to actually eat something when we went for lunch on the way home. I talked him into having some of my fries, and by the time we got to the front of the line to order, had even wrangled him into getting a chicken sandwich. I let him get whatever he wanted to drink (no beer, wine, or artificial sweeteners, though).

When we got home, he was free to do whatever he wanted. I am pretty sure he played with Lego in his room and rode his scooter outside for a bit. To be honest, I was so wiped from trying to maintain emotional control, that I don’t completely remember the rest of the day. I know I took him for sushi on the Friday night as a positive start to the weekend, to sort of buffer it all.

This is the kind of thing that can be really challenging about even the mildest of autism. People think your kid’s a little quirky but they expect him to be able to do everything a neurotypical kid can do, just the same way or at the same level or speed. I had a pretty busy and eventful week at work, but we had Haircut Saturday, followed soon after by Dentist Tuesday (with x-rays, a cleaning, and the news that we need to have two of his teeth pulled next week), and frankly, a lot of my life becomes a total blur on a semi-regular basis.

I just wanted to blog about this lest ye think that it all sunshine and rainbows over here in autism family land. I tend to share pictures and blog posts about the small victories, because that is what I want to remember. But a lot of our most important lessons on this journey come out of the difficult, painful days.

#makeschooldifferent Challenge

Yesterday, I was tagged in a tweet that brought my attention to this very cool challenge.  Diana Neebe blogged her response and tagged me in her list of five educators, all of whom I love and respect immensely, and I am very much looking forward to hearing their thoughts on this.

The origin of this challenge is Scott McLeod's April 13 (2015) blog post.

So here goes my contribution:

When it comes to education, we have to stop pretending that . . .

1. Standardized testing is ever going to give us any useful data beyond what we already KNOW about our students.  Testing only shows us who is good at taking tests.  Actually, let me revise that statement.  Poor performance on standardized tests is great for pointing out who comes to school hungry, overtired, stressed out, impoverished, neglected, or victimized by racism and classism inherent in our society's systems.  We need to stop using test scores to tell us what we already know, and then ignoring their message.  Rather, let's solve those societal problems and stop giving tests at all.

2. "The way we've always done things" and "BGUTI (better get used to it)" are good reasons to keep doing things that are ineffective, harmful to students, or both.  Students, parents, families, teachers, administrators, and everyone else involved in education deserves better.  Do you still have a VCR you use daily?  A record player?  A rotary dial phone?  In every other aspect of life, humanity has discovered, developed, or invented better ways of doing things.  And that's not just with regard to technology, though that's the easiest place to find contemporary metaphors.  Adults, think back to your own school days.  Do you remember all the things you learned from worksheets and workbooks?  How about lecture and note-taking?  I know that my own strongest and most positive memories are from the times I was actively involved in creating something: music, a poster for a project, a model.  Some of the memories weren't even all that positive, but they stuck.  Worksheets? Not so much.

3. All students learn in the same way, at the same rate.  If there is one thing that having a son with autism has taught me, it's that I was wrong a lot in the past in my assumptions about students who need to do things differently.  One famous quote that is often misattributed to Albert Einstein is about how if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life believing it is stupid.  While that is more about everyone having their own strengths, it also applies to how we learn and how quickly we learn.  If we could make our education system truly more individualized and personalized, we could eliminate a lot of the negativity surrounding education.  A potential subtitle for this point could be "We have to stop pretending that homework doesn't suck."  Don't even get me started on homework.  Kids that need extra practice are tortured by it, and are likely practicing concepts incorrectly. Kids who "got" the concepts in class and who sail through their homework probably don't even need to be doing it. The divides we see among students are widened because kids who need extra support are often in homes where there may be no one available to provide that support during homework time. And kids who have special interests or activities outside of school, the things they love because they're good at them or successful there when they aren't in school, often have to choose between homework and what they love and can succeed in.

4. Teaching is a profession anyone can do, especially when they drop out of something "better."  Too many people in our society view the career path of teachers as something we've settled on because we couldn't make it as anything else.  And society also seems to expect that all these all-but-failures they've somehow okayed to be in the classroom can get it together to completely transform their kids, despite all the factors working against us. So teachers are given no respect, but are expected to perform miracles. And despite all they are up against, most of them do.  But it's never enough.  And then people wonder why we can't keep good teachers, or why no one wants to enter the profession in the first place.  We need to change society's view of and value placed on teachers.

5. Education is about anyone other than the students themselves.  There's a lot of talk in this country today about our societal ills and how if parents would just do their jobs, if teachers would just do their jobs, etc. But when people "just do their jobs," young people are often given the short shrift.  By the time students are old enough to figure out that someone may not have done right by them, it's often too late to win them back to having a positive outlook about their own futures.  In the meantime, while we're racing to run off copies of a quiz, or grading piles of homework, students need us to stop and get to know them.  To ask why they're upset. To check in on how things went in that competition or performance they just had. To find out what they like about the book we're reading.  To validate what they didn't like about a project.  During August trainings, I've heard teachers (myself included) joke about how school would be so much fun if it weren't for the students showing up on the first day.  And I've heard some people say it who were NOT joking. I've heard complaints about the kind of students a teacher "has been given" as if they were talking about an STD they caught by accident.  I've known educators who simply do not like kids.  And I've asked, sometimes out loud, "Um, WHY did you go into teaching?"

I think all of my ideas point to a bigger picture of having our lenses all out of focus when it comes to accountability.  I am a professional.  I have two degrees. I have over two decades of experience in the classroom. And I have a very good track record. Allow me to do my job and be accountable to my most important stakeholders: my students. Honor that as a teacher, I make great sacrifices to do right by them every day, and even on weekends and holidays.

I am also a parent.  Please like my kid.  Get to know my kid.  Give him a chance to show you that he IS capable and that he CAN do and learn, even if he needs more time or different methods than other kids. Especially now as he enters adolescence, he is looking to everyone BUT his parents for validation that he and his very existence are not mistakes.

I've been absolutely blessed. Not every step of my path as an educator and parent have been easy or positive, but I have spent much of my time in both roles in relatively cushy situations. I am valued where I work. I am given the resources I need. My son is loved and appreciated and encouraged in his schools (past and present). I am well aware, however, that so many educators and parents experience the myths I've outlined above daily. And I've received my share of snide remarks about my choice of profession.

Finally, and partly in hopes of a post that is more positive to follow mine, I need to tag five educators to continue the conversation in their own spaces.  Who are five people whose views I would really love to hear on this? I choose Rushton Hurley, Julia Fallon, John MillerJon Samuelson, and Karen McKelvey.  These are all people I've spent time with in various situations, solving the world's problems over a drink or a meal or a ride to the airport, and each of them has made me better at what I do.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

This feels like progress.

Yesterday, my son and I had the most productive conversation we’ve ever had, squeezed into the ten to fifteen minutes it took us to drive from school to his social skills group meeting.  It started when he said to me, “You know how things take me longer to learn and I’m sensitive because I have autism?”

So I said, expectantly, “yeeesss…?”

“Well, I think maybe Axel (not his real name) might have autism too.”

“Why is that?” I queried, naturally.

“He’s kind of slow with learning some things, and he seems pretty sensitive too.  Does he have autism?”

“Well, I don’t know him or if he does.  Everyone with autism is different anyway.”

“Do you think HE knows about autism?”

“Well . . . let me ask you something: did you have autism when you were in third grade?”

Creative Commons licensed by Chris Costes (SOURCE)
“Yes. I have had autism my whole life.”

The world went slightly blurry just then, as I pulled up in the left-turn lane.

I then went on to say that maybe Axel does have autism, or maybe he doesn’t.  Maybe he does and it has not been diagnosed.  Maybe he has a diagnosis but only his parents know.  Or maybe he and his parents know, but they’re not telling Axel’s classmates, like what we are doing right now in our family’s case.

In that moment, I was grateful we told Cameron about his diagnosis as soon as we learned it.  For us, it was absolutely the right thing to do.  In this moment in the car, I also chose to tell him about someone else I know who didn’t know all throughout elementary school that he has autism.  He was in sixth grade when his parents finally told him.  And they had the teacher help tell the kids one day when the child in question stayed home from school.

We arrived at our destination with me realizing that my helpless little baby is now a tween with his own self-directed personality with his own objectives and goals for his life.

I picked up on this conversation a little bit today on the way home from school.  We were already talking about some interpersonal stuff with my boy and his current friends at school.  I asked him if he thought he might ever be comfortable telling his classmates about autism and how it affects his life.  Not this year, I assured him.  But maybe next year in sixth grade, or perhaps the year after that.

“I don’t know. Maybe I will.”

Yeah, I’ll call that progress.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Superlative Disease

I live in Silicon Valley. And I work in one of the most prestigious private independent schools in the country. In Silicon Valley. So I am surrounded, it seems, by a culture of fastest, smartest, youngest, first, best. You would think that in a place known for innovators who took unconventional routes to success, we wouldn’t be so wrapped up in these superlatives we keep using to define ourselves and set ourselves apart from one another. You would think we could focus more on the journey than how quickly and amazingly we reach the destination.

My ex-husband used to say he planned to make his first million by age 30. Sad for him, I suppose, that instead he was bankrupt and divorced from an amazing woman (that would be me) before he turned 33. When we have these labels as goals, do we hurtle toward them at all costs? Do we miss the journey because we are hyper-focused on the destination? Do we forget to be human -- and to treat others humanely -- along the way?

I worry about my students, my advisees, and my son. My students took my class, for the most part, to avoid taking programming. They have already labeled themselves as being not inclined toward computer science. Is it because they feel they can’t be the “best” at it? I get one semester to dispel myths and transform mindsets. My advisees are wonderful, adorable freshpersons. They still have three more years of high school after this one. Three of them intend to take AP Chemistry as sophomores. I’ve been working on them and their parents. Is it really necessary? What edge do they think it will give them to take it next year rather than as juniors or seniors, if at all? And at what cost? The other six are, for the most part, enjoying high school as the final years of their childhoods. And I get to enjoy it with them. Don’t need no AP Mania harshing my mellow, y’all.

I think I have decided to not allow my son to take AP courses. His passion is history, and I think he’d be frustrated and bored in a class that is basically a year (or even TWO!) of preparation for one big test. Tests are not my kid’s friend. I want him to continue to enjoy and explore and interact with history. Not to see how much of it he can cram in his head and keep there until May. As for other APs, I’d need a pretty good argument. If I thought he’d pursue art, I’d let him do those.

And to what future doom am I cursing my child by denying him the choice of AP classes and all that stress? Gee, I don’t know . . . a life? My son will never be an amazing student. At least not as long as school is done to kids the way it currently is. But he already is and will continue to be an amazing person. And I will opt for that any day of the week. You know what his superlative is? Being the best HIM there is. I dare not do or say anything to squash that joy and wonder and, yes, sometimes struggle.

I had a ninth grader tell me she felt school was so competitive, so she always had to keep pushing herself. Why? I asked. Says who? I exclaimed. And then I told her she doesn’t have to play that game. She told me she wishes she was already an adult. No way! I uttered. I begged her to enjoy childhood while she still could. I told her that I try to act like a kid as often as possible to see if I can still get away with it. Childhood rocks. Adulthood kinda sucks sometimes.

But what about that spectre of competition she senses haunting her? It follows her home from school and creeps around when she’s trying to enjoy a tv show or read just for fun, I am sure. It keeps her up late studying and preparing and working. And it wakes her up early to get just a bit more studying in.

We need to exorcise these ghosts of a made-up belief system around education and achievement in our country. We have one side saying our kids aren’t competing on the global stage, and the other side making them crazy with worry about their future. That future is going to be filled with the kinds of problems you don’t solve by studying for tests. The drought in California? The global need for new fuel sources? Future food shortages? Climate change? All the A+ test grades and 4.0-plus GPAs in the world are not going to keep our species from destroying ourselves and our planet.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Home is Where You Remember to Drive to After Work

In the past month, I have made a trip to Boise, moved house, and made a trip to Portland. I’m exhausted. My lower back hurts. I’ve got a lot on my mind.

If there is one thing that moving from a 3-bedroom house to a 2-bedroom apartment teaches you, other than the fact that downsizing is good for the soul, it’s that needing to get rid of tons of stuff will expose neuroses you didn’t know you had. Also, storage units are expensive.

The past year has been really challenging. Just read any blog posts I’ve written in the past ten months if you need to get caught up. I also realized something else really significant during the move: the fourteen years we lived in Willow Glen cover a LOT of major life experiences. We were ten months in one house, and then thirteen years and two months in the one we just moved from. Fourteen years TO. THE. DAY. (That day being Valentine’s Day, coincidentally.)

Standing in the echo-y empty living room of the house, it hit me. Both my parents had visited us and slept in that house. And an aunt. And all my siblings at one time or another. Plus two of their partners and all three of my sister’s daughters. It was the house where I brought my son home from the hospital. That house had seen late-night feedings, nosebleeds, vomit, diaper changes, potty training, and checking for concussions. Several of those. (Kid’s got a hard head.)

The walls of that house witnessed me finding out my Dad had died. Coming to grips with my son’s autism diagnosis. Finding out Mom was sick. And then learning Mom was gone. Those same walls looked on as I earned my Master’s degree online. And as I taught online classes and participated in weekly video broadcasts. Song parodies and videos. Helping raise another person’s child. Taking in her boyfriend. Telling them they had to go.

Meals with family and friends. Christmas trees and cookies for Santa. Annual school portraits. Arguments over the dumbest of things. The only home my son had ever known.

Don’t get me wrong; I wanted to move. I suppose it would be nice to be able to come up with a down payment on a home we could own, but this is Silicon Valley, so I’ll settle for a pool I don’t have to clean and grounds I don’t have to keep. We’ve traded nearby train tracks and the 280 freeway for light rail and 17. We’re not as close to the airport. We’re a tiny bit closer to the mountains and the ocean beyond. We almost overlook the Los Gatos Creek Trail, and we hear the bells of St. Lucy’s on a regular basis. We have all our own furniture, and eventually we’ll put stuff up on the walls. I like it.

But after the year I’ve had, it just feels like one more fork in the road of life where I’ve had to decide how to proceed . . . and be prepared to live with the consequences of my choice. I definitely wanted out of that house. But I am not used to this new home yet. It will come.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

When NO to One Things Means YES to Another

(This was written January 21, 2015.)

My life has gotten REALLY busy. That is part of why I haven’t blogged in a while. Another part is that, while I have plenty to say, I haven’t been able to get my head around HOW I want to say it. And I was waiting to tell some folks something in person before I shared it widely.

And that was the worst introduction I’ve ever written. So let’s just dive in, shall we?

I’m wrapping up my second year as Director of the MERIT program here in the Bay Area. It’s an amazing year-long professional development cohort situation for teachers, and I absolutely love it. As I wrap up my second year, I have decided to wrap up my being Director at all. We typically serve three years as Director, and that had been my plan all along. But then, life loves to throw us curve balls when we have the audacity plan that far ahead, doesn’t it?

Many people who know me personally know that this past year has been eventful, but not necessarily in the good way. Last May, we found out that our son’s learning challenges are caused by autism. Shortly after that, we discovered that my mother had stage 4 cancer. I traveled to the East Coast (or close) seven times between April and December. There was a Spring Break trip to Boston with my son, a conference in Atlanta, and three trips to see Mom (the final one being for her funeral). I also went to Pittsburgh in August for an EdTech thing. The last of the seven trips was to spend the holidays with my family in New Jersey. Because we all really needed it.

All those trips made my year INTENSE. My husband, as always, stepped up and did even MORE than he usually does with taking care of everything around the house and seeing to all our son’s needs during the five trips Cameron didn’t take with me. And this has meant a lot of new adjustments, given what we’ve learned this past year about how our son learns and functions. It made me start to look at things I could cut out of my professional life to make more time for my family’s needs.

When I was in Napa in October at a conference, I found out that the dates of CUE Rock Star Lake Tahoe would conflict with the MERIT Summer Institute in the summer of 2015. My son goes with me to Truckee for this event every year, and I wanted to continue that tradition. Applying to be part of that event’s faculty would mean I would have to step down from my MERIT Directorship. I realized that after the year we’ve had, I did not have the strength to tell my son that Truckee was off because I needed to work another year for MERIT. I had to make a choice.

I chose my son.

It’s not that the MERIT program has caused me to have to neglect him or anything. It’s just a big commitment, and I didn’t want to start feeling resentful. I also chose to stop teaching the grad school class I teach online for San Diego State. For a few years at least. I’ve thought about starting a Doctoral program in another year and a half or so. That’s on hold in my mind until we get a handle on the transition between elementary school and middle school for my son.

But I am the kind of person who doesn’t like to turn her back on a commitment. It’s always been hard for me to say NO. But with a full-time job that is busier than any I’ve had before, and my family’s needs changing as they have, I’ve learned that in order to say YES to my family, I need to say NO to the rest of the world sometimes.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

If Michael Brown had been Michael White . . .

Last night, it was really hard for me to go to bed.  I was tired.  I’d had a long day at work and afterward.  I needed sleep.  But the news was full of the aftermath of the grand jury’s decision to not even indict Darren Wilson for the killing of Michael Brown.  So no trial.  No hashing out of the testimonies and evidence in court.  No attempt at justice for his survivors.

And all I could think about was this: if Michael Brown had been a white kid, the police officer would not have shot and killed him.

I’m not looking for debates and arguments.  No one is going to change my belief in this.  

In seven or eight years, if my blond-haired, blue-eyed son and his African-American classmate walk into a store together, they will follow the other kid around.  It doesn’t matter that his Dad is a wealthy and famous professional athlete.  If they walk down the street together as teens-becoming-adults, people may wonder if my kid is okay, and if this young Black man is bothering him.

And I will never have to teach my white son how to act when he gets stopped by the police, just so he doesn’t have to fear being killed.

That is just how it is in this country.  And in some places, like Ferguson, Missouri, it is a lot worse than in others.  

This didn’t start in Ferguson.  It didn’t start with Trayvon Martin or even Dred Scott.  It began when Europeans stole people from their homelands and brought them to this continent and Europe and South America and the Caribbean against their wills.  It began when white people broke up Black families and turned people into property.

It continued as white people denied Black people education.  As they split up enslaved people from the same African cultures so they couldn’t communicate with one another or even offer each other comfort in their imprisonment.  This continues, in a different, insidious form, even today.  We see it in school systems that offer less and lesser to people of color.  Nowadays it comes down to socioeconomics.  But . . . surprise, surprise . . . socioeconomic stratification in this country has always been on racial lines. Why? Because of centuries of denied opportunities.

These days, you will hear white people talk about the way Black people speak, act, dress, express themselves through music and other media, and it is almost always with derision.  Everything about being Black in America descends from what white people have put in place.  Oh, but NOW you don’t like it?  Maybe early white Americans should have thought of that when teaching Blacks to read was punishable by death.

If your ancestors had been kidnapped, beaten, raped, abused, considered property, and KILLED simply because of their skin color, you’d be seriously pissed off too.  When we look at the historical conflicts in Europe . . . let’s take the Irish and the English . . . these are viewed and discussed in academic terms.  Former “terrorists” (depending on who you ask) are now leading politicians.  The subjugation of one people by another is looked back upon with regret, pity, compassion, and understanding.  (NOTE: as a person of English and Irish heritage, I take no sides in this one.)

Rebellion and protest are in our nation’s DNA.  In school, we study the American Revolution.  Rebels are heroes.  Wanton acts of violence and unrest, such as the Boston Massacre and the Boston Tea Party, are put in the spotlight as proud moments in our history.  The murders of Loyalist neighbors, and their banishment to Canada or elsewhere tends to go unmentioned.  But it was all good, because these were white people fighting for white freedoms.

But in the year 2014, Black people aren’t allowed to be angry when police officers kill their sons and brothers.  When their people are routinely arrested and incarcerated at a hugely disproportionate rate to whites.

And I’ve seen wealthy white kids using the N-word with their friends and posting pictures of their drug paraphernalia on Facebook and Instagram.  No one even bats an eye.  A Black kid walks down the street, and he MUST be up to no good.

If you’ve got a problem with me and what I am saying, don’t try to change my mind or convince me it’s not about race.  Unfollow me and unfriend me on social media if you want.  I don’t hate cops, and I don’t condone rioting or looting.  But I am also clever enough to realize that white, straight, female me has NO CLUE what it’s like to be Black in America.  And I am still angry about all these dead Black kids.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

"No Brainers" and My Son, the Scarecrow

Yesterday, my son told me something that I can’t stop thinking about.  We had already been discussing school and how he feels there, especially in math class.  Math is his hardest subject.  It just always has been.  He has some special issues where math is concerned.  No one denies that.

What he told me, though, was how he felt when a teacher poses a “no brainer” and he doesn’t know what to do.  That was the term he used: “no brainer.”  I don’t know if he heard that from a teacher or what.  His dilemma is as follows:

“If I raise my hand and get called on, and I get it wrong, everyone will know I don’t know it.  But if I don’t raise my hand and I am the only one not raising my hand, everyone will know I don’t know.  They will talk about me outside of class, about how I don’t know anything.”

He is ten years old.  In case you have not read about me and my son before, it may help you to know that he has mild autism.

My son seems to believe that he is the only one who doesn’t know everything when it comes, especially, to math.  Also, he can’t understand why anyone would like math when it is so hard.  He thinks he is the only one like this.  He’s like the Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz.

The Scarecrow wanted, more than anything, to have a brain.  By the way, can I just say that neither a scarecrow nor a tin man have a heart OR a brain?  So that’s a whole thing right there.  But I digress.  Let us continue to suspend disbelief so I can keep using this metaphor.

At the end of the film (SPOILER ALERT), the Scarecrow learns that he is, in fact, smart after all.  When it came time to need to solve a problem and have “smarts,” he came through.  He wanted the Wizard to give him a brain, but he had it all along.  Like the Scarecrow, my son wants someone to make him be good at math.  He wants external validation that he is good enough academically, and that he can do things other kids can do.  It just takes him longer.  And he might need some additional tools.

So is my son internalizing the idea that if he can’t correctly answer a “no brainer” in class, then he doesn’t have a brain?  Or that the brain he has isn’t good enough?

We have tried to help him understand that his autism is a difference in neurology.  He has a brain (and all the stuff connected to it), but his is wired differently than most other people’s.  He reacts differently to things.  His senses perceive more of some things, and maybe less of others, compared to his peers.  What he has begun to sense a lot of, very recently, is that being different isn’t just hard for him, but it’s hard for the people who work with him.  And he doesn’t understand why they might feel impatient with him (as he perceives it) or maybe not like him (again, his take on things).

When we use glib terms like “no brainer,” and when we react to kids in ways that might increase their anxiety, we certainly don’t mean to upset them.  But for a kid like mine, who is mostly trying to figure out how the world works and his place is in that world, I’d like to ask everyone to consider their word choices and their voice tones, and all those other additional meanings that can be attached to what we say.  There’s a little ten year-old Scarecrow over here who wishes his brain was like everyone else’s, and doesn’t realize yet that it will never be.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons