A Beat Behind.

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It was volunteer day.  After the instructions, given first to me in private, and then to the first grade class, the children broke up into their groups. About eight of them came to sit in a circle around my chair.  My son was not among them.

“We need the eye-guides,” said one child, as they pulled their readers from the long ago, worn-out, plastic bags used to haul their books from school to home and back again.  There was rustling of papers and, of course, that one student who tells me the reader is at home.  Once settled into their spots, with the books open, or shared, the reading begins.  With each sentence, they are to tap their “eye-guides”, clear, plastic, ruler-type devices, with knobs for holding their place, as they read along.  Two taps for the end of a sentence, one tap for a comma.

The eye-guide.

The eye-guide.

Confusion abounds.  Pronunciation issues arise.  Disputes occur.  A couple of well knowns, snicker and goof off.  Other students whisper pronunciations to those who are stuck.  Four children lose their place and don’t know where to start when their turns come.

They all muddle through.  I ask questions to check their comprehension.  Inevitably, at least three children raise their hand and wave frantically.  When called on, they go silent or make up an answer far afield.  Eventually, after much discussion, I think they’ve come away with a general understanding of the story.

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They write down the pages I assign, moaning that it’s too much.  I must repeat the assignment 3 or 4 times. As they straggle away, the next group immediately comes to sit down.  This group includes my son.  Three of the girls play a bit of musical chairs, minus the chair, as to the space to my left.  They know I will start with the reader to my left, and they all want to be that reader.

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My son plops down mid-circle, facing sideways.   Even his physical location is different from the rest of the children. He is engaged in self-talk about iBasket, an iPad app.  “Did you make a basket?”  “Mommy, what does the iBasket guy say?” I really did not know how to respond to him in front of the group.  I try to get him to open his book, and then I’m relieved by a distraction of a question from another student.

My son remains smiling and mumbling to himself.  He knows I’m there but makes no eye contact with me or anyone else.  He laughs.  His tutor stands nearby but makes no move to realign or redirect him.

I ask everyone again to open their books.  Some ask which page.  Others simply do it.  A couple argue about what page the group “should” read.  My son, staring off in the distance, talking of his iPad app, is not with the rest of the group.  I address him directly.  “Tootles, open your book to page 16.”  Hearing me, he snaps to attention, opens the reader and asks, “Where is page 16?”  I let him alone.  I know he can find it.

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I begin with the reader to my left.  Off and running, most of the group has difficulty tapping the correct number of times at the right places. Some either forget to do it, or think I won’t catch them, but I do, and everyone is forced to back track until we are all tapping in unison.  Well, almost all.  My son taps but only after he hears the others. He is consistently a beat behind.

When it is his turn to read, he is silent.  I have been watching him out of the corner of my eye.  He is following along.  He knows where we are.  He reads loudly and clearly at home.

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In the corner of the classroom, in this small group, preoccupied with thoughts of the iPad app, he reads at a whisper and then goes silent.  “Speak up!” I urged.  “I can’t hear you!”  A bit flustered, he reads loudly, stumbles, and finishes nicely.  I move on.

After the story, we discuss the questions in the book.  My son and I had read those very questions as homework the night before.  He knew the answers.  I had no idea whether, in the group, he was listening, hearing, shielding himself, engaging in a coping mechanism, or simply ignoring me.  He did not respond.

I ask him what kind of chores he does at home, a question that all the other kids answered.  He does not respond.  I remind him how he dumps the garbage.  Instead of answering, he says, “Wanna play iBasket.  iBasket is a fun game.”  And, on that note, the group received their next reading assignment.

As the others wrote it down, my son did not.  Still facing west in a group facing south, he was smiling and mouthing words to himself.  His tutor prompted him to write it down.  He got out his paper.  Two of the girls offered him a pencil.  He took one but did not say thank you as asked.  There was too much going on around him.  Rustling papers, voices, questions, other kids wandering around the class, the teacher’s voice with another group on the other side of the room, a need to concentrate on making the numbers that constituted his assignment and the date.   Before I knew it, he had gone back to his desk to work on something else.  Another group of reading students was before me.  The routine replayed.  And before I knew it, my volunteer duties were over.

As I left my son with a kiss, he acknowledged me softly with a “yes” when I said I’d see him after school.  There was still no eye contact.

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As I walked out into the bright light of the parking lot, the icy wind whipped around my face, forcing stray strands of hair over my mouth and in my eyes.  A combination of a scraping, bitter cold and a light tickle overtook my senses.  Oddly, the feelings matched my emotions, as I thought of watching my son in a roomful of peers, yet all alone.

Questions scraped my heart, cutting my insides.  What will the future hold for him? At the end of this year, next year, after elementary school, in adulthood?  What is he capable of?  Will he someday take off the blinders that leave him socially isolated?  Or will those blinders always remain to secure the greater purpose of protecting him from anxiety, pain, hurt?

I must be patient.  A  nudge here.  A tiny push there.  Inside, there is always a deep-seated angst that scrapes at happiness, for what I fear might happen when I’m no longer there.  Will the connections he is missing impede him from climbing a rung toward ‘community‘ that will help him cope when I am gone? Will he someday achieve interdependence that is healthy and free?  Will he be prey to the unsavory in seeking someone to trust?

I don’t like to talk about it, much less think it, but it’s always there in the dark corner of my mind.  Oddly, co-existing in that moment was the tickle of pride.

Pride that my child is fiercely smart and accepts that he cannot always express it.  Pride in the way he copes with his anxiety with smiles.  Pride in how far he’s come.

It’s hard to explain how I feel both at the same time.  But I do.  And all I can do is teach him what I can, let him feel my love every minute, give him space, and let him grow.  Because scrapes and tickles are part of growing up, whether your child or mom.

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About solodialogue

I'm a lawyer and the mom of a 6 year old boy with autism. I work part time and spend the rest driving here and there and everywhere for my son's various therapies. Instead of trying cases, I now play Pac-man and watch SpongeBob. I wear old sweaters and jeans and always, always flat shoes to run after my son. Yeah, it's different but I wouldn't change it for anything. The love of my child is the most powerful, beautiful and rewarding aspect of my life.
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10 Responses to A Beat Behind.

  1. Lisa says:

    Oh my goodness…this one tugged at my heart…yes to all of this…the mixture of emotions, the questions, the hope…the fear.

    I do know T will be OK…because he has an amazing mom who is giving him those gentle nudges and never-ending support and love.

    Great post, Karen.

  2. Your post is so beautifully written that I really felt as if I was in that classroom observing the proceedings. I can imagine that it must feel very bittersweet. (I get that feeling when I watch my friends children). I must say I am very impressed that he copes so well in a busy, noisy classroom. How awesome that you get to volunteer and spend time in his school environment.

  3. Mom2MissK says:

    I have also been in your position — watched the differences in my own Little Miss with her typical peers in the classroom. In fact, on Valentine’s day, I watched Little Miss pull the exact same “facing east in a south-facing group thing.” I need to remind myself though (and maybe so do you) — it’s not about those peers and that you can never really compare ANY child to another. What Little Miss and T have accomplished to get to where they are — THAT is legendary. It speaks volumes of what the two of them are capable of. Just you wait and see.

  4. eof737 says:

    Touching… My heart blesses yours… I admire your ability to keep a revolving group of K students busy. 😉

  5. Lana Rush says:

    Reading this today made me a little “happy/sad”. Sitting in a roomful of Lily’s peers, I often struggle with remembering how far she has come. It’s so much easier to notice how far she has to go… But oh my word. My girl is a spunky thing – and that spunk is going to get her through so many challenges. I just need to find my spunk….

  6. A beautiful post, Karen. Our kids work hard and though it doesn’t always show, we know it. I’m not sure how J doesn’t lose focus in his large K classroom. I have a hard time being in there myself – I can only imagine what T must sense. You are an amazing mom and kudos for volunteering. 🙂

  7. Cyn says:

    I think one of the hardest things from the beginning for me was to watch my son with his peers and realize that he is a “beat behind” as you so well put it. It sticks in my throat and is hard to swallow and I feel like I should be presented with an OSCAR:)

    “watching my son in a roomful of peers, yet all alone”

    This really resonated with me and was my son’s preschool teacher plea to his JK teacher and now SK teacher that he must not ever be left to just do what he wants to do :

    I think its hard for any parent to know when to step back and let their child learn and stumble and learn but wow its hard to do that when your child is special needs and needs prompting at times to catch up because of all the sensory coming in or the executive function challenges.

    You are doing an amazing job with your little guy lady *hugs*

  8. A heartfelt and touching post if ever there was one! With such attachment comes pain and anxiety. As I think of this aspect, I realise that the way forward is to ” remain in our own business” and not ” jump into the child’s business”. Easier said than done I know but that is the only way to support the child though a well rounded development to face up to the challenges which life would throw when we are not around.

    Shakti

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