Bud and I were running late for gymnastics class today, so by the time we arrived the others were already busy bouncing, swinging and tumbling. The class has grown a little and we've missed two weeks because of illness, so I didn't recognize the two moms who were sitting in the middle of the room engaged in an intense and animated conversation. Bud and I scurried past them and got engrossed in the balance beam and bounce house, and I forgot all about them.
A little while later, one of the moms approached me. She lives in a town near me and her son (18 months younger than Bud) will be starting Kindergarten at his school in the fall. She told me that she is staring to look into which Kindergarten teacher is "best" so that she will be able to get her son into that class, and that she was going to "push for full-day" Kindergarten (our district has half-day sessions.) She asked me if Bud was in for the full day and I told her that he isn't and that, in fact, I don't think he could handle full days of school right now. Sometimes three hours is overwhelming for him.
"My son needs full days," she said definitively. "But I probably won't get it. I never get anything that I ask for."
She pointed to the mom she had been talking to earlier. "She's an advocate. I'm going to get her card. She lives in ThisTown - that's in the best school district in the state. Our district is terrible."
"Really?" I asked.
"Oh, yeah," she said. "Her son gets xyz hours of This Specific Intervention every week. It works great for him. It would work for my son, too. I know it would. Does your son get that?"
"No, he doesn't, " I said. "I haven't asked for it. I -"
"Well I have," she said, "and they told me he doesn't need it."
"Well, I think that This Specific Intervention is not right for all kids on the -"
"Have you ever tried it?"
"No, I -"
"Yeah, our district is terrible," she said, and walked away. I got the sense that I was being dismissed as an uninformed-and-gullible-parent-being-played-by-the-system as I saw her make her way back to the advocate mom to get her contact information.
I thought about the interaction all the way home. Our district is terrible? Can that be? Am I naive and gullible? Am I nonassertive? How is it that this mom who has been dealing with "the system" for 18 fewer months is so much more certain of what her son needs, what the district will fight her on, and how she is going to make her case? Do I have low expectations? Should I be putting up a fight about... something?
Because here's the thing: an hour before we left for gymnastics, I was in a team meeting with all of the people who work with Bud at school - his teacher, the classroom aide, the inclusion coordinator, the OT, the SLP, the learning specialist. They meet every week to discuss his progress, compare notes, test hypotheses, and develop strategies. They invited me to join them - this week, and any other week - and they involved me in the discussion and listened to what I had to say. And I left feeling great.
But as I drove home from gymnastics, I replayed the team meeting and all of the other meetings and conversations I've had with these folks and I wondered, have I done what I'm supposed to do as a parent? I've never brought in a list of specific requests that I want them to meet. Have my expectations been high enough?
The more I thought about it, the clearer it became. No, I've never suggested to the team that Bud needs blahdy-blah intervention for zippidy-do hours each week. But I've communicated my expectations clearly and consistently:
I expect you to know my son.
I expect you to learn to recognize the nuances in his behavior and to take advantage of the teachable moments that the nuances provide.
I expect you to expect him to change, to grow, to learn, to become.
I expect you to delight in his humor.
I expect you to make him feel safe - safe to be himself, safe to take risks, safe to make mistakes.
I expect you to be insightful, thoughtful, and creative.
I expect you to structure his school experience in a way that builds his sense of competence and confidence.
I expect you to be flexible, to try new things, to tweak what sort-of works, to set aside what doesn't work, and to go-go-go with what works while it works but not when it stops working.
I expect you to know your stuff, to keep current, and to share what you know.
I expect you to have high expectations of Bud, and expect that you'll provide high levels of support to help him meet those expectations.
I expect you to be vigilant about not letting him manipulate you... but I expect you to be delighted inside that he has tried to.
I expect you to see his strengths and his gifts, to encourage and feed them, to help him show them to others, and to help him develop a sense of pride.
I expect you to see Bud when you look at Bud, and expect you to know that autism is just one part of who he is.
I expect you to love him, love him, love him.
The team that works with Bud meets my expectations consistently. They don't have all the answers. They don't even have all the questions. But they collaborate, and they try, and they really, really care.
So, perhaps I'm naive, perhaps I'm gullible, and perhaps our district really is terrible; all I know is that I am terribly, terribly pleased.