When my son was just three I learned one amazing thing. That, it doesn’t always take a village to raise a child, sometimes one remarkable woman can make all of the difference.
When your child is different, or difficult, anyone who shows him a little patience and understanding becomes your hero. When a pre-school teacher make his progress her personal goal, it’s hard to fathom such dedication.
I say without hesitation that turning this toddler into a boy ready for school was like carving granite with a butter knife.
Quite often when I left work each evening to pick him up it was with mixed feelings. I was excited to be with my son – to see his delighted smile as I appeared and he ran across the room to wrap me in his tight bear hug. On the other hand, I knew there would be reports of him hitting classmates, refusing to participate in any art activities and having to sit alone during center time.
On the worst days he would have thrashing fits when anyone tried to control his obsessive behavior. He would deteriorate into kicking teachers and crying inconsolably and the class would retreat to one section of the room to continue their lesson while his teacher sat near him, waiting until he was ready to wipe his tears, control his anger and move on.
When taking privileges away didn’t work, we tried writing letters. For each time he hit or kicked, he wrote an apology and drew a picture for his classmate. There were weeks when we were writing two letters a day. I often wondered if we were making progress as I asked him to explain what his circle and stick drawing represented, so I could describe it in the letter. And always, the simple drawing was not a simple idea but rather became a complex story about light sabers and knights taking on evil monsters.
While we worked on his apology letters we talked about the need to “use his words” not his fists or feet and to try and think before he hit. He would look at me and put his hands out palms up and slowly explain that he can’t control himself, he doesn’t know why he hits, but “his brain isn’t stopping his hands when he’s angry.”
I would watch him and wonder how odd is this brain that it can provide my son the language to explain how he’s feeling but cannot help him control himself.
He was eventually diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, an Autism spectrum disorder which affects many children, mainly boys. Those with Aspergers are considered to have normal to high intellectual capacity and atypical social capacity.
When researching Aspergers I learned many brilliant individuals have or are thought to have had Aspergers, including Thomas Jefferson and Bill Gates. This gave me great comfort and hope.
With therapy, change for my son came slowly. But as the months and then a year passed I was delighted by small victories. My son went from having one or more hitting incidents a day, to three a week, to one a week. He turned five and announced that he doesn’t hit anymore because five year olds are nice and make friends.
He decided to give art a try – when years had passed with him never touching glue or sequins or finger paint. He made Yoda and a light saber out of clay –without wearing surgical gloves.
We decided he could try Kindergarten. We knew he would still need support to ensure his experience was positive and focused on his abilities, not his disability. But what I’ve learned since I made that decision five years ago is that what he needed most was an understanding teacher. If I ever doubted that one person can make a difference, she taught me there is no doubt. In fact, one person can be a village.