It was still drizzling outside. Cold and foggy with little light, it was difficult to determine what time of day it was, unless you looked at a clock. Dropping my son off for school, I was headed to a place I hate to go, and one to which my family has been too often lately- the hospital. My mom was getting her feeding tube replaced for the first time and I promised to meet my dad and wait with him.
Toots was in line to enter his classroom. As I greeted his teacher, I remembered. She wanted to talk to me about something. I asked her what it was.
And that’s when I got the “news”.
Since the very first day my son entered his first preschool, I have agonized, worried, rallied against, feared, and ignored the inevitable – that my child might face “teasing” or “being made fun of”. But really, at some point, doesn’t everyone go through some “teasing”? Perhaps. Maybe it’s for the color or style of clothes, a haircut, pink eye, a zit, something that one could change or heal.
Not a lifetime disability. That would be mean. That would cut my son’s self-esteem to the core. It would be something I couldn’t fix or make better, and my job is to protect, nurture and make everything better. What would happen the day I couldn’t?
The teacher was casual. Perhaps, that was the approach she thought best to cushion any blow to me. She really wanted to talk to the class about autism. We had discussed it and the idea went on hold until yesterday.
“I want to do it as soon as possible,” she said in a low voice. She leaned toward me slightly and added, “A couple of the kids are mimicking his speech.”
The bullet she did not know she fired lodged straight in my heart, but oddly I did not feel the pain I expected. I did not flinch or question or…or anything. Without missing a beat, I told her about books I just purchased at the Social Thinking website. I just blurted it out. Three books I had in the car had lesson planning about social behaviors and maybe they would help. I went to retrieve them.
As I walked out to the car, a million thoughts raced through my head. Who were the kids? What were they “mimicking”? What did she mean by mimicking? When? How many times? How many days or weeks had it been going on? Did my son know? Did they do it in front of him on purpose? Is it one of the boys? I’m suspicious of the boys since they don’t seem to talk to my son… I need to get to the hospital…
And even as the questions raced, I felt no anger. I felt I should have been angry. I felt sad. More importantly, I just felt determined. Determined to do anything to stop whatever it was, from escalating. To put a lid on it. To flush it away.
When I reached the car, I frantically opened my laptop case and pulled the shiny new books, with their glossy pictures, and new book smell out. I quickly scanned the pages as I rushed back to class, hoping for anything relevant.
But the reason I got these books was because my son was asking me to teach him to play with his friends, not to teach his “friends” how to accept him. The books were full of lessons on how to listen and communicate. I gave them to his teacher, telling her that I thought they were geared more to my son’s behavior than that of others. She said she would like to look at them over the weekend. I replied that would be fine because, after all, it’s for my son.
I left and headed to the hospital. My mom’s procedure, thankfully, was quick and outpatient. I stayed with my father until he placed her in the car to take her home. As soon as I was in my own car, the “mimicking” was at the forefront of my mind. In fact, it never left. While waiting for my mom, I texted my son’s tutor about the “mimicking”. She texted back that she knew the teacher wanted to tell me. She said they were not “making fun” of him but that it hurt her heart to see “it” happen. Since I knew I would see the tutor in the afternoon, I waited to talk to her until after school.
“It” ate away at me all day. I left work for Barnes and Noble to look for something to use in the classroom. Sitting on the floor of the store, in front of the book shelf I wanted, I pulled out every book I could find and settled on three: one about a girl who “half friends” a differently-abled child in a wheelchair and has to decide whether she will invite her to a birthday party or exclude her based on her disability; the famous All Cats have Asperger’s Syndrome book; and a book called “Words are Not for Hurting”. I gave them to the teacher at the end of the day.
It turns out that the “mimicking” was of an echolalic phrase my son picked up from a toy display last year for Hot Wheels. The display had a launcher and “measured” how fast you could launch the car. If you launched it the max “99 mph”, the display would play the phrase “Beat that!” My son smile big and say it because he liked it. One of the girls heard him, laughed and said it too. The fear is this “mimicking” could develop into making fun of my son. The teacher wants to stop it before it starts, because she is awesome like that.
I want to help, but there is only so much I can do. Eventually, I have to step into my own waiting room and let the teacher and the tutors do what they are trained to do. My waiting room leaves me with no control. I better get used to it. I just realized I’ll be spending the better part of his childhood “waiting it out”.