Each Tuesday Ruth and Stacey at Two Writing Teachers host Slice of Life Stories (SOLS). This is where bloggers link up to share anything they would like to share about what is happening in their lives.
Last Friday I visited my son's second grade classroom as a guest speaker. I was speaking about one of my favorite topics......my son TJ. TJ is the most adorable 7 year-old boy you will ever hope to meet. Like many second grade boys, he likes to swim, play on the playground, run around and dig in the dirt. He also has autism. I asked his teacher if I could come in and talk with the class about him.
All day long in classrooms everywhere, kids share with each other. As they build their classroom community they have share time, turn and talk and show and tell. They talk about their favorite foods and hobbies and share about their families. Since TJ can't share what he likes (and doesn't like) to do, where he likes to go and all of his favorite things, I thought I would do it for him.
Let me back up a bit. This idea came to me because of some experiences in my own classroom. Over the years I have been fortunate to be able to have many wonderful students in my class, including children with autism. I think it is an absolutely invaluable experience for all children to have students with disabilities included in the classroom community. The empathy that is shared and expressed and the celebrating of small victories is heartwarming to say the least. But many students have often asked me questions about students with special needs that I cannot answer, either for confidentiality reasons or because I just don't know the answer. But, who knows the child best and can share any information they'd like to share? That's right, the parents.
So I decided to contact my son's teacher to see if she would be interested in having me come in and discuss TJ's likes, dislikes and ways to communicate with him and support him at school. I also wanted to have a general discussion about autism.
Having little experience with second graders I have to say I was a bit nervous. It turns out I had no reason to be. They were fantastic! I read a very short picture book called In My Mind: The World Through the Eyes of Autism by Adonya Wong then we had a discussion. We talked all about my precious boy and how he is very much like them in many ways. We also talked about his differences and I told them that he has "something called autism". A few had heard the term, but most were hearing it for the first time. The amazing teacher took notes and encouraged an open discourse. She wanted to know what his favorite games were and his favorite books so that they could have them in the classroom. Taking her lead, the students listened, asked questions and shared some of their own "TJ stories".
Leaving the class, I felt like his classmates and teacher knew more about him. Yes, they knew he had autism, but they learned so much more. They learned that he loves trampolines and doesn't like to stay home. They learned that although he speaks very little, he will sing songs like "Twinkle, Twinkle" which he sang for them and they all joined in. They learned that they have to say "TJ look" to get his attention and that he will give high fives and fist bumps. Now they know he loves Eric Carle books and right now is going through a Dr. Seuss phase.
I would highly recommend planning a visit to your child's classroom to any parent of a child with special needs. Discussing your child's differences and similarities helps others to see beyond the disability and to really see your child.