Every Monday is gym day. I’ve had a couple of gym stories but this one is different. It is not about my son. It is about moms. Moms who recognize and seek out someone else without really seeking out someone else. It can’t be the first time this has happened. I would love to hear if any of you have had a similar experience.
I showed up for class with my son and his tutor. They went straight into the gym and I sat down to write a post. That did not happen. A mom I had seen for the past few weeks came and sat down near me. This woman had two boys in the class, one nearly 4 and the other, 5 1/2. The only thing I noticed about them, prior to this day, was that the younger one kept making excuses to come out to talk to his mom. Beyond that, I thought they were just a couple of NT brothers.
As we sat, she started to make small talk with me. I’m not sure if she had me in her sites that day or if it was spontaneous. At any rate, she was very pleasant and correctly pointed out my son and asked if he was mine. I confirmed it. She then said that her oldest son had joined the gym because he had some gross motor skills problems and her school had suggested that this gym might help him. She asked if the gym had helped my son.
So, what to do? Small class. Answer politely and ignore her? Other parents seated apart but not far enough to prevent them from hearing every word. Do I tell her or not? If you know me, you know what I did. I told her. In front of the room of observers. Including the father of my arch nemesis, the mom that brought the illness and blight on me in February by coming to the gym sick. And all of them heard, but no one turned. No one raised an eyebrow. No one batted an eye. That I noticed.
I was having a conversation with a woman who seemed to be looking for help. I told her yes, the class has been helpful to my son because he, also, has motor skills problems. He has autism. She nodded, completely unfazed, seemingly knowing. She was neither looking at me pitifully, nor as though I had the plague. She looked at me very simply like one mom to another.
“My son stutters,” she responded. “He spoke fine until he was three, and then he began stuttering,” she continued. She did not care about anyone else in the room. She divulged that her son had no formal diagnosis. Her pediatrician told her that he would outgrow the stutter by the time he was five. She said he was now 5 1/2 and was showing no signs of stopping the stutter. He also hates his PE class. “PE in kindergarten?” I asked. She said yes, that it was a private school but her son was completely non-athletic and was just starting to show an improvement after joining this gym class.
She then openly shared that her middle son was a bit of an enigma. He has speech delays. He had normal cognitive function by one assessment and impaired cognitive function in another. She shared that her middle son knew dinosaur names, shapes, and his alphabet but had trouble with his colors and numbers. He had special services at their home until he reached the age of three when they were discontinued.
Because of the private school, her boys get no public school funding for special needs. They have no IEP. She did not know what an IEP was until I said the words to her that day. She has been relying on her insurance to cover her costs. Initially, she received assessments by the county agency for special needs but the assessments all came back negative for qualifying disabilities. She had no idea what to do for her boys.
Her younger son interrupted by emerging from the class, again. I listened to him speak to her. In my very brief observation, he spoke a garbled sentence and started laughing looking another direction. I did not see anything funny. No one else was laughing. Hmmm. She promised a Jamba Juice if he would finish the class with his brother. The boy returned inside.
I shared with her some of my son’s signs of autism. I explained to her the occupational therapy, speech and ABA and how they were funded by the public school district and the state agency. I wanted to share more with her but the setting was not conducive to a special needs chat.
She was genuinely interested. I think she was wondering if her middle son was on the spectrum. She commented that the spectrum was “too wide”. That she knew April was Autism Awareness Month. She watched the McNeil Autism special. She commented that she felt autism was “too broad” a term, and it should be divided and renamed separately in categories by level of disability. What I saw was a woman who knew where to look but was afraid of what she might find there. She thanked me for the name of our speech therapist and repeated the name to get it right.
The children were finished. They all ran out of class. Her two boys had been promised a Jamba Juice for participating in the class to the end. My son came running out with his tutor. A sea of children parted us. I helped my son to get ready to leave. She left with her children.
I feel now, looking back on it, that this woman is worried about both her boys. Was this a simple small talk inquiry or something more? I think it was both. I think she may be scared that someone might use autism and her son in the same sentence. I have no qualifications to tell her what is going on. I think she is looking for some answers. I don’t want to speak out of turn.
Am I reading this exchange wrong? Or was this woman looking for help from me? She did not ask. You see the exchange. What should I have done differently? What would you do? Do you have any suggestions for what I should say when I see her next Monday?
Because this is real life help we’re talking about here.
What should I do?