My son is That Kid. The one that you look at and wonder why they let him in your child’s classroom with all the normal kids. You think he takes up too much of the teacher’s time. The time you feel should be spent teaching all of the students, instead of spending so much time dealing with him. You feel sorry for him, but you can’t understand why anyone would go through so much trouble for this one kid, who doesn’t seem to have any chance of making it in the real world. Poor thing. It’s very sad, isn’t it?
He’s the one that the other kids don’t quite know how to interact with. He covers his ears and closes his eyes and rocks back and forth humming. They avoid him, they whisper about him. They groan when they have to work with him during small group time. They never pick him to play on their team in P.E. or at recess, because he’s uncoordinated and drops the ball. He won’t make eye contact and he doesn’t talk. Or he talks too loud and strays off-topic. Or he stays on topic long after the rest of the conversation has turned in a whole new direction, blurting out some statement that now seems so irrelevant, that no one can place it. They exchange that look, and he is ostracized even more. If he approaches a group of kids they turn away and pretend they didn’t see him. Or they’re just cruel and tell him to go away, he’s unwanted.
When you come in with your student to drop off supplies or a finished science project you see me in the classroom talking with his teacher. Again. You were hoping to steal a moment before class started to ask her a question, but I’m monopolizing her time discussing my child’s needs. Again. Is that really a set of noise-canceling headphones I’m dropping off for him to use during class? Really? Now he doesn’t have to even listen to the lessons anymore, we’re just trying to do anything we can to keep him in the classroom? That kid really should be in a special school, where he won’t cause so much trouble, shouldn’t he? A place where you think his needs will be better met, so your child can get the education that you think he or she deserves, without having to deal with all this nonsense.
Let me tell you a little bit more about That Kid. That Kid is amazing. He is brilliant. He outshines your little bundle of joy in so many ways that you can’t possibly comprehend. While your adorable little munchkin is sitting in the kindergarten class trying to learn how to count to ten and tell the difference between a “d” and a “b,” That Kid has been reading since before he turned 3. He can count well into the hundreds and is already learning addition and subtraction, even though he just turned 5 a month ago. Not only has he mastered the circle, square, and rectangle, he can identify a hexagon, a heptagon and an octagon and explain the difference between them. That Kid is not in your child’s classroom to learn the academics, he’s already got those down.
That Kid is there to learn how to live among the rest of us.
The thing is that the same anomalies that have given him this ability to process information so amazingly, may have also come with some unfortunate side effects. Every sensation is also processed at a higher, faster, more intense level. The fluorescent lighting that is so pervasive in our schools is too bright and irritating. Did you know that some people actually process vision so quickly they can see the pulsing of a fluorescent light, thereby living in a world of strobe effects? A noisy classroom or cafeteria can be so amplified that it seems like they’re walking through a carnival or even a rock concert. A group of kids making fun of him because his motor neurons work a bit differently sets off another bunch of abnormally wired neurons that hit his anxiety center and makes him feel fear about coming to school each day, which is tragic.
You see, That Kid might change the whole future of humanity. He may one-day cure diseases with that amazing brain of his. Maybe he’ll find a way to bring free renewable energy or clean drinking water to the masses. But in order to get there, That Kid needs to thrive in an educational environment ripe with opportunity. He needs to be able to go to a university, where his particular brand of genius will be recognized and appreciated. In order to get there, That Kid needs to perform well in high school, showcasing his many talents, and focusing on the skills that will help him work in a cooperative environment like a university research lab. To do well in high school, he needs support and a safe middle school environment to gain confidence and learn to self-cope with the many sensory abnormalities that he suffers from every day. And before middle school he’s going to be in your child’s class, just dipping his toes in the waters of a great big scary world full of noise and distraction and endless fear, simply trying to figure out how to get through a normal day out there. His teachers, therapists, and I will be there to try and figure out what is overwhelming his system, and then to try to find ways to help him cope.
His teacher knows this. His doctors know this. His Occupational Therapists know this. The school counselors know this. They have all sat in testing sessions with him and been stunned at his abilities. They know that in a quiet room, with just a handful of people he is brilliant and loving and sweet and smart and wonderful in so many ways. He has their support and they care about what happens to him. They are more than happy to meet with me when there is something to discuss. They all know his potential. They all know that one day, That Kid is going to do Great Things.
But we don’t live in a quiet little room with just a handful of people. I know this. So I will suffer your judgment and dirty looks while I’m monopolizing the teacher’s time. I will continue to try and help my child get through the day without melting down, and you and the other parents can discuss his out of control behavior and my presumed lack of parenting skills all you want. Believe me, I spend enough time and tears questioning that myself. I will cry myself to sleep when he begs me not to send him back again because the kids are mean and he hates going to school, but we will get up in the morning and we will do it all again. We will fight and struggle and plead and suffer and we will get through this day by day. That Kid may someday change this world, but only if we give him the tools he needs to learn how to thrive within it.