Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Special Needs or the A-Word Discussion

My son, Nick, takes everything so literally. It started with his teeth brushing. I have always told him that if he doesn’t brush his teeth that they will rot out of his head—true, true! So issue number 1 is how long should he spend brushing his teeth—literally. He will then come to me and show me his teeth and ask if they’re clean—and since I know that he had been in the bathroom for what seemed like forever just scrubbing away, then I know that they’re clean.

He is like this with almost everything. It’s either a lack of confidence, or his OCD. Or maybe a little bit of both. I’ve been thinking lately that it is probably because he is becoming more aware of himself and of his surroundings at school and the other kids. Which is good, but it also brings up the why am I in a special needs class issue.

I’ve never actually had the full discussion with him about his special needs. As far as he’s concerned, he doesn’t have any real issues. I have NOT told him that he has what is considered “special needs” or that he is suspected of having autism. He wouldn’t believe me if I told him, anyway. Put it this way, if I said to him that we think that he has mild autism, then he would probably follow with: What! You think there’s something wrong with me!? He sees autism as a disorder only like his sister, Meghan, has—a severely impaired person who has trouble understanding and cannot talk. I just didn’t want to put a label on him or have him feel that he was different.

But recently he has asked me about a girl in his special needs class. He asked me why everyone was so nice her. I knew that it was his way of asking me more about her. I told him that she has Down's syndrome. I then told him what that was in terms that he could understand. I also mentioned another boy that he knows who also has Down syndrome. Then I brought up the name of another boy that he knows, he is older and in the high school that Nick will be attending next year. I told him that this boy has a type of autism called Asperger’s. I told him about these kids—all in one breath—because he had asked (in his way) and I felt that it was time. And he was just amazed. I could tell that the wheels were turning and he was starting to see people in another light.

I have now come to believe that he is thinking more readily about why he’s in a special needs class. Again, we do not talk heavily about the subject. I have always said to him that all kids learn differently and some kids just need extra help--and left it at that. So he has always referred to this classroom as the classroom with the special helpers.

Recently I’ve told him that I, too, was sent to a special class. Once for lisping, and that I needed speech therapy, and then a year later—4th grade—I was daydreaming in class so I was pulled out for "needing to learn to concentrate better"—whatever that meant!?

But what was even more impressive to him, was that his cousins: one older and one his age, and both of whom he likes to talk about and looks up to, also go to special classes. I told him they have a disorder called Dyslexia and cannot read well. Again, I described it as someone whose brain works differently.

Well wouldn’t you know that he had the biggest smile on his face, as if he was thinking that everyone needs special help to some degree and at some point in time. Which is true!

I guess we really did need to have this discussion!

What about you? What do you tell your special needs kids about their special needs?
And do you agree with how I handle this issue with my son?


Tanya @ Teenautism said...

Great post, Holly. It's coincidental that you wrote this now, because I've been gearing up to write a post about my discussion that I had with Nigel on that subject a few years ago. I had been putting off writing it, but I think now I will. Thanks for the encouragement!

Anonymous said...

I think its wonderful how you described your son's situation to him. I always describe my son as being "different" from other children his age - I don't see him as being "disabled"
Since he is only 4 years old, I don't think I have to have this discussion anytime soon but I think I will approach it in the same way.

Mama Mara said...

I think mama knows best. If he needs more information, you'll know.

My older son started asking why he had trouble with things that other kids do, and when I had THE discussion (aided by a workbook called "Aspergers: What Does It Mean to Me?"), he was relieved. My younger son, however, still hasn't shown any signs of needing an explanation. I'll follow his lead for now.

Holly Nappi Collins said...

Thanks for the book suggestion, Mara, I will look into it!!

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