“Come Learn With Me”
Last week, A’s school had its annual Sibling Day. Siblings get to meet one another and share their experiences as up close observers of special needs, and they also visit their siblings’ classrooms and see what a day in the life is like.
From G’s very entertaining texts and later, our in-person chats, here are some observations:
Most of the siblings who visited were younger than their special needs brothers and sisters (that makes sense if you consider that older siblings are likely to be at summer camps and sports practices or even at the beach).
During the meet and greet, there were cookies, but since no one else took any, G didn’t either, so they remained frustratingly uneaten. HAHAHA.
At first, when G walked into the classroom, A screamed then became very giggly. He continued to giggle all the way through lunchtime, and was also very affectionate and huggy.
When I asked G what classroom tasks A did, this is what stood out: he folded clothes and painted a pineapple.
During lunch, G got to know the teacher and aides a little, and showed them A’s favorite videos on YouTube. Shahrukh is coming to a classroom near yoooooo!
Apparently A is the loudest guy in the class. I’m shocked, I tell you. Just blown away.
I think G liked being the expert on all things A for a day. It’s a brilliant idea on the school’s part. When A was in public school, we could never make even a small visit to his class happen, there were always roadblocks. And then G grew older and changed school buildings, and the time passed when it would have been exciting to plan such a visit.
Just like education should continue in the home, so should family interactions continue in the school. I strongly believe that when it comes to special needs families, this stuff needs to be facilitated by the schools, and indeed, by the whole community. It’s easy to say that families should be responsible for their own interactions, but it is a whole other ballgame when interactions are complicated by high level needs.
Everyone learns something valuable too–siblings absorb important messages about why their involvement is necessary, and why their special needs brother or sister is not just being a brat (the fact that parental attention isn’t available to compete for is even better). The special needs children get to share their world with someone they love but may not always be able to express it to. And teachers learn a lot about their students from observing these exchanges.
The next day was a day for friends and grandparents and other extended family to visit. Since my in laws were in town, they attended. They listened to a speech by the principal, toured the school, and visited A’s classroom. A was off his rocker with excitement by this second day of unexpected colliding of worlds.
It was interesting for us to listen to kid vs adults’ impressions of A in school. G sees A every day and for all of us, being a special needs family is a central part of our identity. Some families prefer to see themselves differently, and the freedom to draw that picture is essential. For us, defining ourselves this way allows us to seek out the help and acceptance we need, and it also frees us to live in a reality of our own creation, which, since we are relatively isolated by ritualistic behaviors, is why we can drop the normalcy act, and draw closer without being self conscious about how we don’t meet the requirements of “normal” in our larger community.
Anyway, for my in laws, I got the impression that it was a bit saddening to see A solidly rooted in special needs land, and I understand that. This is exactly why the school throwing open its doors is so important. For our little family to be better understood by the people who care about us, concrete exposure is just as important as abstract information.
It must be chaotic to plan for visits like this every year. I have great respect for the school for doing it despite how disruptive it must be. G is A’s hero, and when he got home, and I said, “Hey, I heard G went to your class today!” he clutched my arm and looked at me with “HOW DID YOU KNOW!? OMG, IT WAS EVERYTHING” face.
For my husband and me, watching the kids delight in each other is the EVERYTHING that makes it all worthwhile. Minus peer pressure, minus parental pressure, minus whatever else that makes teenagers impatient to fly the coop and leave the (sometimes) faux friendship of sibling ties behind, it’s nice to know that two kids can have so many laughs and so much merriment together. I suspect it is not despite the autism behaviors, but because of them that they feel such a lack of abandon and are able to disregard any loss of dignity that might arise from being eager to hang out.
Up close, autism can be a very beautiful thing.