Saturday, February 20, 2010

Opportunity, possibility, and community

I've been given an incredible opportunity. It's been two weeks since the opportunity was presented to me, and I'm still reeling from the possibilities it holds.

I've already told you that Bud's teacher, Ms. Walker, and his paraprofessional, Mrs. Nee, are incredible. But I haven't come close to telling you how incredible they really are - because, really, until two weeks ago, I didn't know. We'd been talking about trying to find a time to meet for a regular, non-IEP, non-crisis-management parent-teacher conference, and two weeks ago Ms. Walker and Mrs. Nee found themselves with an open afternoon. They e-mailed me to see if I was free, and I was, so we planned on getting together for a quick meeting.

Two hours (and many laughs and a few tears) later, I left the meeting with my head spinning. These women are REMARKABLE. Their teamwork is remarkable. Their classroom is remarkable. Their stories are remarkable. Their understanding of and love for my son is remarkable. And the progress that Bud has made with them is truly remarkable. I spent large portions of our meeting saying things like "this is incredible" and "you need to present this at a national conference" and "you guys should write a BOOK!" They are that good.

And in the midst of their reports on Bud's significant progress and on their insights, their strategies, and their incredible year of highs and lows, they presented me with an opportunity. It started as a story:

Ms. Walker had been reading a book to the class while Mrs. Nee and Bud were out of the classroom. The book, Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key, is about a boy with ADHD and is written in the first person, from Joey's point of view. They had gotten to a section of the book in which Joey talks about taking medication. Ms. Walker stopped reading to have a brief discussion about what it means to take medication - explaining that some medications fix things and that other medications just make symptoms more manageable.

A child raised her hand. "But," she asked, "there isn't a medication that can make Bud different, is there?"

Her brave and heartfelt question opened a floodgate from her peers: Bud has autism, right? But what is autism? Will Bud ever be like the rest of us?

Ms. Walker was caught off guard; she hadn't anticipated this turn in the conversation. She didn't feel prepared to answer their questions, but she knew that their questions were important ones and that honoring them could lead to extraordinary understanding. They were questions whose answers could make a difference in everyone's life. So she suggested a solution to the children: maybe Bud's mom would be willing to come in and answer some of your questions. The children were enthusiastic about the idea.

At that point in the story, Ms. Walker handed me a stack of index cards filled with ten-year-old scrawl. "I told the kids to write down any questions they had, and I said I would ask you if you'd be willing to come in. I told them they could ask anything at all, and you would decide if anything was too private to share."

I started flipping through the cards. They blew me away.

What is autisim
Why does he move in circles

Mrs. noos....
Do you know all the Diffrent ways Bud learns?
How come nose bother Bud so much
Why Dose Bud repet so many lines from TV shows or movies?
Why Dose Bud Have to move so much?

- What disability does Bud have?
- Please explain.
- Was he born this way?
- How did it happen?
- What goes on in Bud's head?
- Why does he repeat things?
- Why does he run in circles?
- How can I help?
- How come Bud gets attatched to people and then always wants to be with that person?
- Does Bud know he's different?
- Why does Bud have Awesome hearing?

1. When Bud grows up will he be like us or will he be like he is now?
2. Why can't he say stuff in full sentenses like when he keeps saying the same word in one sentens?
3. Everybody thinks he's much different then us. Is he reely much different?
4. Why is he like that? Is that the way he was born?
5. does he know that hes different from us.

Why does Bud have such sensitive hearing?

How do you deal with Autisum?
How does Bud have such great humor sometimes?

Why does Bud repeat things that are on TV? Why doesn't Bud not like to be with oter kids? And how can I be a person Bud would like to hang out with? Please anwser. (PS. Does Bud know that hes diferent?)

1. What is otizim?
2. Does it help you?
3. Was Bud born with Otizim?
4. Is Otizim suff you need to take meds?

Why does Bud repeat things?
Why does the fire alarm noise scare him?
What is atisum?
How can I help Bud not worry about things.
Why is Bud scard of loud noises.
Why does Bud move in circles?
Why does Bud always miss you.
Does Bud know that he is different from some other people.

- How different is Bud from us?
- What are Bud's conditions?
- What was Bud born with?
- How dose Bud's brain work?

1. how does Bud think?
2. What is Why does he need Movement breaks?
3 Wyy Why does loud noises bother him?
4 Why does he repeat things?
5 How can I help?
6 Does he know he's diffrent?

My Questin are
1. What is otisem
2. What dose Bud thinck like
3. Dose Bud have otisem
4. Why dose Bud hate loud noses
thease are the questins I want to know if these questins are parsin that is fine I don't mind
5 How can help Bud
6 dose Bud Hate thunder storms
7 dose Bud know He's diffrent

Dear Mrs. NOS.
Bud is funny, exciting, and a REALLY good friend
1) how does he remember things from really long times ago?
2) Why does he walk in circles and murmer to himself?
3) What do pills help him do?
4) What can I do to be a better friend to Bud?
5) is it always quiet in your house just for Bud?
6) Why does he hate it so much when it's loud?

I didn't take a moment to think about it. "Yes," I said. "I would love to come in and talk with the class." We decided that we'd find a time when Bud would not be there, and that we'd offer it as an option to the kids - they could opt to eat their lunches in the classroom with me, or skip the presentation and have a regular lunch period in the cafeteria. I told Ms. Walker and Mrs. Nee that even if just one child stayed behind, I would consider it time well spent. Ms. Walker assured me that more than one child would opt to stay. "These index cards were optional," she said. "They wanted to fill them out."

I've spent the last two weeks mulling over the children's questions, developing analogies, and thinking of examples that they'll be able to relate to their own lives. I keep thinking about this comment, which arrived a couple of months ago, and about the way that a well-placed conversation might have made a difference in the life of the commenter and the children he encountered. I keep thinking, especially, about particular questions that Bud's classmates asked:

How can I help Bud not worry about things?

How can I be a person Bud would like to hang out with?

What can I do to be a better friend to Bud?

How can I help Bud?

How can I help?

How can I help?

I love these children. I love these teachers. I love that I have been given this extraordinary opportunity.


*m* said...

Oh, those sweet kids. And bless those teachers.

What an opportunity, for them and for you.

Dani G said...

Wow. These kids love Bud! They want to HELP!!! My bird is 5 and in a pre-K inclusion program with kids who adore her. I am so hopeful that some of these kids will stick around to support her along the way.
When Little Bird started the school year, I wrote an "all about me" book for the kids, noting her differences and similarities and all the things that make her super cool. A little education goes a long way. Thanks for sharing this story with us. My heart has been warmed for the day!

Robin said...

Wow. Just wow. I don't think I trust myself to say anything more, my keyboard has suddenly gone strangely blurry and damp looking...

ghkcole said...


abby said...

Wow. Your entry really gives me hope. I can't wait to read about what happens in the lunchtime presentation/Q&A that you do with the kids. I am with Bud's teacher: I bet you that more than one kid will stay behind.

These kids sound so awesome and I am hopeful that Hallie will have classmates like these (I suspect that she already does, it's just that preschoolers are a whole lot less articulate than gradeschoolers are).

Niksmom said...

I am well aware that Bud's school situation is a rare confluence of awesomeness and love that doesn't occur in very many classrooms. I sure wish it did!

I have no doubt that what you share with the other students will have a very large ripple effect— a wave of positivity and appreciation.

I think I need to convince my husband that we need to move to your neighborhood. What you've shared about Bud's teachers gives me hope that,one day, we can find a good fit for Nik, too.

VAB said...

What a great bunch of kids and teachers.

When I was asked the why question by our guy's classmates, back when he was about that age, I got a lot of millage from pointing out that some people had curly hair and some people have straight hair, and then working from there.

mumkeepingsane said...

*sniff* Crying like a baby over here. Wow, that's just, wow...

Stimey said...

"How can I help?"

These are special kids. And they clearly have a special teacher. I am blown away by this. (And more than a little jealous.)


Club 166 said...

The truly transformative power of a great teacher and special ed teacher working together is a wonderful thing to behold. We had a good team last year. Unfortunately the amount of roadblocks that one member of a team can put up is also very impressive.

Anonymous said...

"I spent large portions of our meeting saying things like "this is incredible" and "you need to present this at a national conference" and "you guys should write a BOOK!" They are that good."

I spent large portions of my time reading this blog thinking things like "this is incredible" and "you need to write a book"... You are that good. :-) And I think answering a few dozen of those questions for all of the kids in all of the classrooms with a friend like Bud might just be your book.

Pia said...

I just blogged about in a little bit of an "inclusion battle" with our district (I will win) for my 3 year old Jonathan. THIS is why I am 100% committed to inclusion... because when you bring kids together with adults who care enough to create community in the classroom, everyone wins. THIS is why I will fight. Thank you.

pixiemama said...

It took me so many tries to read through their questions. The love and concern really overwhelmed me in an amazing way.

Wow, mama. WOW.

I can't wait to hear more.

pixiemama said...

I guess I wasn't done ...

The "How can I help"


"How can I be a better friend?"

What an amazing boy Bud is to incite this outpouring. What amazing teachers!


Stephanie said...

Thanks for sharing! These are some great questions and the teachers were wise to let you field them!

Daisy said...

If our future is in the hands of the children, our future is in good hands.

xine said...

I love your attitude about the children´s questions! With a lot of parents, other children knowing about their child´s autism and having questions about it can be a major source of anxiety. I love the note card idea... I can already think of some families with kids in inclusive classrooms who could probably benefit from a similar Q n A.

Melissa said...

I'm betting those kids are going to remember your lunch with them for a long, long time ... :)

Simply amazing.

Professor Mother said...

I am absolutely sharing this blog with my student teachers who have expressed that they're afraid to ask parents to speak- afraid that they might make the differences worse by talking about them. Afraid that they will work so hard to include children and by highlighting differences lose the commonalities. So many teachers want to help, but they, like the children, don't know how. Thank you for writing this so that there can be more Mrs. Walkers and Mrs Nees.


Usethebrains Godgiveyou said...

Just as we are taught to hate, we can be taught to love. What a kind teacher!

Judy Jeute said...

Kids never cease to amaze me. I will be anxious to hear how crowded the classroom is! Please do a follow up.

KathieC said...

I wish. How much of my son's life have I spent saying those words "I wish". You're blog has been a constant in the background of our lives for a while now. I've found it so inspiring that I myself have started and abandoned 4 blogs of my own.

My little man is Bud's age and I often feel, when reading your blog, that I am reading about him. That is, until I get to the posts about his supportive educational environment. Reading this particular post, fresh on the heals of chaperoning my little man's post-poned Valentine's dance was too much for me. I spent the hour and a half watching him dance and twirl by himself. Watching the other kids point at him and laugh behind their hands. Watching my sweet, loving boy surrounded by a margin of empty space that no NT child would enter. You and Bud are so incredibly fortunate.

I wish ...

cathy said...

What's more awesome than a bunch of kids wanting to learn about and understand a classmate with autism? A mom who embraces the opportunity. I hope you will share how the experience goes!

KAL said...

What an awesome opportunity, and what a great school. You're right - those teachers are amazing. I can't wait to hear how it goes!

Anonymous said...

What great teachers and a great mom. I think there are often kids like this in a classroom, that can make a difference. But, it only happens when a teacher makes room for it.

I'm hope that others get the chance to have that space too.

mommy~dearest said...

What a wonderful opportunity! I love the one "Everybody thinks he's much different then us. Is he reely much different?" That is priceless.

Beth Allums said...

again, breath taken away and watery eyes - I am so thrilled for you. Bud is such a lucky guy. I can't wait to hear your account of how this goes. What a great opportunity! Talk about a teachable moment!

Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg said...

I can't think of a better scenario than a loving mother answering sincere questions from her child's classmates about her amazing son. Heaven! I just wish I could be there.

Anonymous said...

this is so moving to me. i am blown away, mom-nos. with all the assurances (both inside and out), that being homeschooled is the right thing for fluffy at this point, this story of these kids and these teachers and those questions, over and over, and you having the chance to speak to them, to expand this conversation, how can i help? how can i be a better friend? cuts the core of what matters to me here. there is nothing more important.

i wish i could be there the day you visit the class.

Island Mom said...

Oh man, this is the most incredible thing i've ever read. I want to clone Mrs Nee and Mrs Walker and bring them to our school , they are truly rock star teachers -- everybody involved in this wins. Those questions are fantastic -- I bet you have a full lunch crew for your visit. I am going to print this post out and take it to Ike's school, and carry a copy of it to his kindergarten-transition meetings which start in 2 weeks.

If you are at all serious about a book project or an inclusion teaching guide (DO IT, WE WILL ALL BUY IT FOR OUR KIDS' SCHOOLS!) , the Inclusion Project (Clay Aiken's foundation) has money available for things like that.

MothersVox said...

Wow Mary wow. That is incredible. Just amazing. How could we multiply this by 700,000,000 (figuring that there are 1 in a 100 people on the planet who are on the spectrum)? How did all of you make this happen?

EJ Willingham said...

It's a Circle of Friends! Kids can really be so surprising in a good way. What a great opportunity.

Unknown said...

This is awesome! I am so glad to see the positive nature of the children and their desire to learn more about Bud. This is the way it should be for all children, autistic or not!
Kudos to you and the school for doing this!

Anonymous said...

One of my boy's classmates approached me at school one day and said, "Yeah, Jake has oddism, but that's OK."
He's lucky to have great classmates, too.

Emma Apple said...

This one has to be my favorite "3. Everybody thinks he's much different then us. Is he reely much different?" <333 *tears* these kids are amazing!

Unknown said...

Thank you for this whole series on visiting is class. I am still unsure how to explain it to my daughter first, but this has helped.