A Plea to Teachers: from a special needs mom

This week I am advocating for my boy. Take note, world. Take note, teachers. This might be the face of autism for one that you know.

We ended up switching B’s teacher recently. Additionally, we’ve increased his counseling and OT services. A lot is going on with my little guy.

Teachers, I know these times are hard. BUT, our kids NEED YOU to try to understand them. MY KID NEEDS YOU.

My kid doesn’t LOOK autistic. But he is. And he needs your understanding. Not your frustration. Why? Because he doesn’t SHOW his sensitivity, but he’s compassionate and takes everything personally. He reads how you treat him. He will come across frustrated and disrespectful, but his emotions run deep.

He FEELS deep. He doesn’t know how to show it always. He’s learning. And we’ve had some deep conversations this week. My boy is wrestling with a lot. His existence. His purpose on earth. (Yes, you read that right. My seven-year-old is trying to find his PURPOSE. His words.)

Teachers….teachers, I’m begging you. Be a “TEACH”er, not a disciplinarian. Be love. Don’t expect him to love you. BE kind. Don’t just TEACH kindness. Be patient. Don’t be impatient. Be understanding. Not demanding “to be understood”. These kids won’t respond to your demands, they respond best to your love.

Please know that he needs you, though he struggles to verbalize his emotions (I promise he’s learning), and you may wish you didn’t have him in your class, pretend, just for a moment, that you are a piece of the puzzle that helps him to become the person he is meant to be.

My boy IS a puzzle. He’s a part of a bigger picture in this world. He even said to me the other night, “I was created for something special, and I don’t know my place in this world. Maybe I don’t belong”

Oh, how he’s struggling.

And I need YOU, teacher, to be the piece of his puzzle that FITS. Not the one replaced. B is never going to forget the 1st-grade year we had to switch his teacher because she didn’t take the time to be sensitive to his needs. “She doesn’t like me,” he said, “I can’t do anything right.” We never uttered those words to him. He picked them up. He FEELS precisely what she’s projecting out to him; annoynace, anger, frustration, and dissatisfaction.

He’ll always remember the pieces that fit perfectly, but he’ll never forget the jagged pieces that never fit, that had to be replaced. Like a teacher.

Boys like him, never forget. My sweet, sensitive boy, who takes in the whole world, is so reflective and hard on himself, struggles with empathy and unseen things. Who will always tell you you’re old, and your dog is going to die soon because he’s old. Who says he doesn’t understand ‘love’ or know if he can feel love because he doesn’t understand feelings (I told you he was introspective). Who will tell you your nose looks funny. Who will call you out and tell you you have bad manners if you don’t say please. Who will advise you on how to perform your job better. Yes, that kid. He’s not trying to be complicated or disrespectful (though he isn’t perfect, and yes, he has moments of being rude), but what I NEED you to understand is that there’s a difference between him being who he is and him being disrespectful. His brain works differently.

He’s black and white. He’s logical. There is no in-between. No gray area. (Though, this is something we are continually working with him on.)

I recently had a talk with him about what gossiping means. He took it so seriously that when he was having a problem with his teacher, he was afraid to tell his counselor and me because he said it meant he’d have to “talk negatively” about his teacher to me, and he didn’t want to gossip. So that then warranted a further conversation about how it’s okay to talk to certain people when you’re having a problem because they are there to help you. (And we had to be VERY specific about who to talk to; mommy, daddy, counselor.)

He may tell it to you like it is. No, actually, there’s no ‘may’, he WILL tell it to you like it is. But it’s mostly in your perspective, if you take the time to understand him. If he doesn’t sense that you are there to support him, that you only see the worst parts of him, that you mistake his quirks and eccentrics for disrespect, then you don’t have his respect. All bets off. He senses it. I’m not saying it’s right, but it’s him. And I’m not looking to change the core of who B is, only to enhance it. Polish it.

But, the truth is, these conversations and support can’t just happen at home.

I’m an educator myself, so I understand the difficulties teachers are facing. I know your job is hard, especially right now. But, make your job easier by UNDERSTANDING these children and taking the extra time to SEE them. See who they are. Their hearts. My boy’s heart. I need you to know that you are looking at someone who needs a little extra when you look at him. You can’t treat him like everyone else. The tiny moments you seek to understand will make a huge difference, make your job easier, and let him know you care.

If there is a tiny greenhouse full of 18 flowering plants and 1 of the plants isn’t producing flowers yet, it’s slightly starting to wither, what do you? Do you continue to give that one plant just as much water as the other 17, or do you nourish it a little more?

You know the answer.

Water it more. Talk to it (they say that helps plants?). Give it more care. More time. Be delicate. Help it grow.

And, let’s pretend that the same greenhouse has five plants that need more water. What do you do? You take those 5, maybe set them next to one another to make watering them more manageable, and you feed them. Together.

These things, these conversations, these extra moments of care don’t take long. You can do them in minutes. You have to take the time and have the heart to know what to do.

Blake climbed into my car two weeks ago at the end of the school day, looking sad. I asked him what happened, and he recapped for me a scenario that I think perfectly sums up his emotions, how teachers may not understand how something small can make a big (negative) impact.

That day was frigid, for Florida at least. I had just purchased two new pairs of gloves for him (knowing he’d probably lose one glove at some point.) He brought both pairs of gloves to school that morning. It was a battle I didn’t want to fight, so I just let it go. (As a mom, you learn these things, am I right? Pick your battles.) In the car, B explained to me that one student forgot his gloves at home that morning, and they were about to go out for recess, and the boy was cold. As they were standing in line, B walked up to the boy, A, and handed him his second pair of gloves to use. The teacher’s reaction?
” A, give them back to B. We can’t share because of COVID.”

That was it. No other conversation. A handed them back to B, and they went to recess.

B looked dejected in the car. “Mom, she didn’t even tell me ‘thank you’ for trying to share. I know there’s the coronavirus, but I was trying to do something kind. You taught me to share. Did I do something wrong? Wasn’t that kind, mom?”

I had to do the job that she should’ve done. I had to reassure him and tell him he did the right thing.

I get we are in the midst of a pandemic. But, there is still a way to go about this better.

Let’s role play.

How to respond.

“Blake, that was so nice of you to lend those to A. Unfortunately we can’t share because of germs, but I really appreciate you being so kind. That was such a thoughtful gesture! You’re so SWEET!”

How hard is that?

I confronted the teacher, and she admitted that’s how it happened, but stood up for herself.

I’m not expecting perfection from teachers, or anyone for that matter. I’m just hoping every human continually strives for better and learns from one another. Please. Learn from this post. Have empathy, kindness, understanding. You know, the things we should be teaching our students.

Do you know that kid in your class who always tries to tell you what to do? Always points out your mistakes? That’s my kid. Sometimes B even comes across like he’s telling the teacher what to do. If he has an idea in the classroom on how to make something fun in Science, or if you make a mistake when you’re doing a math problem, he’ll call you out. Please, don’t think it’s disrespect. He’s passionate and wants to share his ideas with you, teacher. And after a while, if you continue to put him and his ideas down, he will stop telling them to you. He will stop participating in class. He will think what he has to say has no value. He will lose his creativity, and in the process, his self esteem. Watch how you respond in these moments of passion and his desire to add to the discussion, and, yes, even those times when he wants to tell you you’re doing something wrong. It’s okay to correct him, but don’t treat him like he’s an asshole. “Blake, I appreciate your input, and you have some great ideas. Maybe I’ll think about that for next time.”
Or, if you make a mistake and he corrects you, “You’re right. I did make a mistake. Thanks for catching that. I’m not perfect. We all make mistakes, don’t we?”

Really, it doesn’t take much time or energy, teachers. It just takes all of us being introspective and figuring out better ways to help our students, especially those like B.

I’m not here to berate you and tell you you’re doing a horrible job.

No one is perfect. We all need to continually be growing in life and trying to be a better version of ourselves. (I teach this to B all the time).

My boy is sensitive. Please be sensitive. Teachers. I’m not making excuses for my child. Trust me; we hold him accountable. But he needs MORE. Kids on the spectrum don’t look a certain way. But, they FEEL a certain way.

And, I’ll take this opportunity to plug the book I wrote. Because, just as much as we need to learn these things, our students also need to learn them so they can treat one another with respect and understanding.

I’m a HUGE advocate and proponent for social-emotional learning, which is why I wrote this curriculum, Klassen Cookies. I’m not posting this here because I want to be a millionaire with it or take your money. I’m posting it because I genuinely want to see our kids and US do better. B was my inspiration for writing this book, and selfishly, I wrote it for every single teacher he will ever have because I believe in it so much that I NEED them to use this curriculum in his classroom.

Please, take the time to understand kids with special needs. Talk to me. Ask me questions. Ask other moms questions. Ask other teachers. Be better.

No regrets about what you didn’t do when you didn’t know. But, now that you know, what are you going to do?


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