Friday, November 08, 2013

Look Mom, No Hands!

Let me start by saying that I really like my son’s teachers and all the other adults that have worked with him and really taken to him at his new school.  And no one has ever loved anyone as much as his teachers at his (and my) former school do.  And having a son as unique and special as mine is has really forced me to take a long, hard, critical look at the teacher I once was.

So having said all that, I want to ask you to imagine something and then indulge me in a little rant I need to get off my chest.  My eyes, heart, and mind have been irrevocably opened, and I feel the need to get other people to feel and know what I now feel and know.

Without meaning any disrespect to people who truly are born with physical differences or limitations, I want you to imagine for a moment that my son was born without hands.

If that were truly the case, teacher, would you really comment on my son’s cutting/coloring work as needing to be more carefully done?  Would you really require him to write out everything the long way?  Would you really grade his penmanship?  Would you really embarrass him in front of his peers for not being able to correctly click on something on a computer screen?  Would you really emphasize the things he can’t do like everyone else over the things he can do?

I am grateful every day that my son DOES have hands.  But his hands don’t do the things his brain tells them to do quite the way we expect.  And they don’t work along with what his eyes are seeing.  It’s called visual motor integration, and his is pretty deficient.  And he’s a lefty, so there’s only one type of scissors (thank you, Fiskars) that are TRULY made for him.  And schools don’t have them, generally.  So yeah, his cutting is a hot mess.  And his coloring.  And his handwriting a lot of the time.  Because using his hands HURTS more often than not.

And about that connection to what his eyes see?  Let’s talk about those eyes.  Those gorgeous, kind, smiling blue eyes.  They work just fine, according to the vision screening we had last week.  What doesn’t do so great is his brain, with what his eyes have picked up.  His short-term visual memory kind of sucks.  That’s a technical term.

This means that when he’s copying something down from the board or a textbook or even another paper, he forgets what he just saw while he’s writing it.  So he looks back.  But then he forgets where he was in the source, and when he finally figures it out, he can’t remember on the paper where he was writing.  Repeat ad nauseum.  This means that everything takes him ages.  Combine this torture with how difficult it is for him to get his hands to cooperate in the first place and, well, you get the picture.

So what I am eternally thankful for is when the teacher has him orally go over some math facts to show what he knows.  And when he can underline and circle items in sentences instead of having to write out all the words.  And when it’s okay for him to dictate to me, so I can dictate into the Dragon app, to send his story or essay to his email, so he can copy and paste it into a Google Document that he can revise, finish, and share with his teacher.

And I am grateful he’s getting quicker with keyboarding.  And that at school they use Chromebooks.  And that he gets extra time on tests and quizzes.  And a teacher can ask him to respond orally to the test questions he skipped because he seriously didn’t even see them.  And that his counselor’s door is always open for him.  And that his science teacher has the kids do tons of hands-on activities and labs to better understand the topics they’re covering.  And that they’re even flexible with when he can do the extra time he gets because it’s important for him to spend some recess time with the new friends he has made.  

I am especially grateful that my son was made exactly how he is.  All the body parts are there, and they work, just not maybe the way he, or we, or anyone else, expected them to.  These things for now are just challenges to overcome.  They’re not his fault.  And when he asked me, when I told him this, whose fault it was, I told him what I’m telling you now.  It’s nobody’s fault.  It just IS.

It is how things are.  And there will come a day when his life’s work and passion don’t require good penmanship or for him to have to write long hand at all.  And there won’t be one right answer he has to guess at.  And when he needs to do math, he’ll just use a calculator.  There will come a day when he figures out what he wants to do with his life, and doing that will require him to be the funny, sweet, compassionate, imaginative guy he is.

Until then, I’ll just keep being his Mom and being in his corner.  And teaching him how to advocate for himself so he can do it one day without my help.  Until then, his hands hold mine just fine.  His arms are great for hugging.  His eyes don’t seem to forget to look to mine for reassurance when the world asks him to do the things that don’t come easy.