My son goes through phases. Sometimes, he loves to listen to music. Sometimes, the music has to be off. Right now, we’re kind of in neutral, neither pro nor anti music. When we are in the pro music cycle, oh, look out! My smiling little lady killer bends at the knees and bops up and down. Not side to side. No wiggle. Just bopping up and down bouncing to the beat, head and body. He does this dance while looking at everyone else for approval. But it doesn’t stop there. His look says “Dance with me,” and the unspoken command is irresistible! Everyone who comes in contact with “the dance” must sway and bop to the music. And it always brings smiles and laughter to everyone.
That is why, early on, I decided that dance would be our special activity. Not karate, t-ball, or soccer. Dance. I researched it and found the perfect spot. A dance school right across the street from pre-school with a pee-wee hip-hop class once a week. We walked in, checked it out and left with some papers. But dance was put on hold with the commencement of intensive behavioral therapy. The consensus was that it would be too much to add dance in the mix at this point.
With five full months of therapy complete, I suggested dance to our therapists. I advocated that dance would be great for socialization and for coordination. The therapists agreed to provide an aide to assist in the class. I was so excited! Social skills, interaction with his peers, and the joy of watching him perform hip hop moves!! Yay!
Wait a minute…
There was a minor detail. I had to call to see if the dance school was accepting new students. They were. And since I had the dance school on the phone, a question. My son was 4 years and 7 months old but large for his age. Should he be in the pee-wee group (ages 3.5 to Pre-K) or the mini hip hop for ages K-2nd grade? Maybe mini would be more suitable for him. Oh one more thing, I added, because he’s autistic, he will have an aide with him to help him out. Awkward silence.
“Well, I will have to get approval from the owners to allow that,” she said. “What?” I asked. “What do you mean, approval?” “Well, we don’t usually allow that.” “Allow what?” “Allow others to come into the class.” I found myself premising my next comment with “Well, I don’t know how much experience you have with autistic children….” and then telling her the purpose of the aide was to help him respond to the dance teacher, to help him comply with direction. She told me she would call me back. She might need a release of liability. Could she have my number? Immediately, I gave her my office number at our small law firm. I told her I could provide her with a release. I understood. I was a lawyer, after all.
When I hung up, I felt strange. Was this creepy feeling just my imagination? Was I imagining that my son had just been snubbed, sight unseen because I used that word – “autism”? Was this prejudice? Prejudice against an innocent beautiful little boy? And shouldn’t I just immediately recognize prejudice?
These several thoughts ran through my mind. Before I even hung up, I sensed it. That is why I threw in that I was a lawyer. I used my degree for any remotely perceived advantage it might gain me.
Fueled by my doubts were the what ifs? What if she did not call back? What if she said they would not accept my child at their school? I did not practice this kind of law…isn’t there some kind of Americans with Disabilities Act that would be violated by refusing to allow my son to participate? (Yes.) Wasn’t there also a California based law? (Yes, the Unruh Act.) Would I fight them legally? (Unknown.) Would I simply let it go and look for another dance school? (Probably not.)
None of the what if’s materialized. The dance school called back to say they would provide me with, not just one, but two free classes to see if it was what my son and I wanted! They offered me the opportunity to watch both the pee-wee and the mini classes to decide which would be best for my son. And yes, the aide was welcome. They were very kind and accommodating.
So then, I had a few new thoughts. Were they only nice because I exercised my big “legal” mouth? Am I simply a nutjob with an overactive imagination? Or really, was it because the girl answering the phone simply didn’t know what to do? Was she, and are most people, really kind, compassionate and well-meaning?
I don’t know the answer yet. I’ll get back to you. It’s still all too new.