The other day when I picked up Michael from his after school program which he attends twice a week, I was greeted cheerfully, as usual, by his aide there. He had done well overall as he has been doing for the last month, but she had run into a problem. Michael had been refusing to listen to her in the gym. He did not want to put down a toy or ball and move on to another activity, and was putting up a fight as she told him he had to listen. All of a sudden he uttered, “Miss Donna, my brain is different from yours, it’s hard for me to listen.” She told me she was speechless for the first time ever, as was I upon hearing the story. You see Moms, I told Michael that his brain was different from other kids’ and people’s, and that things could sometimes be harder for him as a result. Of course, I had never dreamed he would use these words to his advantage in a fight against someone hired to help him! He was grinning as he told her this, though he did eventually say sorry. I was mortified and apologized to the aide for telling him this in the first place. Of course, I explained that I had meant it in the context of when he had challenges with his homework, and had been afraid to ask for help. I had told him this so he knew that his brain did work a little differently, and if he had trouble learning things which came easy to other kids, he shouldn’t think it was because he was not smart. I was shocked, embarrassed and impressed all at the same time! The curve balls Michael has thrown me over the years just keep going up! The aide understood and explained her side of it. She told him he wasn’t different, so that he wouldn’t feel like he didn’t belong there or the other neuro-typical kids would not treat him differently. She was in a tough situation, as was I.
Days later, I was still thinking about this incident. Did I really do the right thing telling Michael at eight years old that his brain, that he, was different? I have used the word ‘autism’ around him, but I don’t think he is able to grasp its meaning yet. This makes sense. He is still so young. I did what I felt was right at the beginning of the school year when he started getting homework and being more challenged academically which was something that was difficult for him. I think as Moms we all have to make these hard decisions about how we talk to our children. Sometimes we hit a home run, sometimes not. All we can do though, I’m learning more and more each day, is listen to our mother’s gut or instinct when it comes to what we know our exceptional kids will respond to.
In realizing this, I thought of the 3 things I think of before I speak to Michael about sensitive topics:
1) Use short and direct words to express feelings.
2) Choose a time of day that is best for him to focus.
3) Assure him how much I love him at the end of the conversation.
Applying these 3 common sense measures will ensure that my message is received properly, most of the time. I’m sure if you try it Moms, it will work for you too with your kids. And the odd time he uses it to his advantage like at after-school care, I’ll do damage control, as they say. 🙂 Until next time.