|An actual image of me on|
What can I say? Our therapy team's awesome. He's come so far.
So, we're driving along happily and I remember that Jack's usual Gymboree teacher started maternity leave this week, so he'll have a brand-new teacher whom he's never met before.
His other teacher had been his teacher ever since he was 15 months old, minus the month or two we tried in "Albert's" class. She worked with autistic children in high school and has always been very understanding. Even though Jack doesn't even acknowledge her, she tries to include him. She'll speak to him even when he's disengaged. She compliments him on his Thomas Pez dispenser. She always finds something good to say to him at the end of class, even if it's just that she was so happy to see him that day. She's fantastic.
A new teacher was going to be a disruption to the routine. I silently questioned how Jack would react.
When we got to Gymboree, I put him down on the ground to walk into the building. He dropped to the ground and just sat in the street, mouthing his Pez dispenser, totally unaware of the fact that there were cars around. I tried to pull him to his feet, but he started to scream and dropped to the ground again. Great start, I thought. Obviously, sitting in way of traffic isn't okay, so I picked him up and prayed that carrying him wouldn't be a set-back. I put him down on the sidewalk and he collapsed again. And so the cycle went several times until we finally made it into Gymboree.
We got our shoes off and socks on. He scrambled into my lap and pressed against me, so I squeezed him tight and rocked him. The center director smiled at us as she walked by. I asked if the new teacher started this week. She said yes, and that she hadn't talked to her about Jack yet. "No worries," I said. "I'll mention it to her."
Sure enough, Jack was anxious, but it wasn't bad at all. He screamed or fretted/stimmed during the usual parts (the tambourine), but otherwise just sat in the back of the room to himself and mouthed his Pez dispenser by a trampoline. I didn't push him. He needed to get used to the change. I sat nearby, but didn't rock him.
The new teacher came over to ask him his name. When he didn't respond (or even look up), I introduced him. I also mentioned that he was autistic and that if she had any questions she could feel free to ask me.
She smiled and said, "No problem! As a child, I had a couple of friends who were autistic. I'm so glad to have you in my class, Jack!" And off she went.
Awesome!!! If I were a hugger, I totally would have given her a big one. Just when I felt that all was right with the world, it was like the needle slipped on the turntable. I cocked my head to the side and caught words that shook me to my core:
"I don't get why they let a retarded kid in this class. It's not like he can do anything but sit there."
Here's the deal. I don't just approach the parents in Jack's Gymboree class and say "Hi, this is Jack. He is autistic!" I don't exactly make a secret of it, either. There's a big Autism Speaks magnet on my car. I wear an Autism Speaks awareness bracelet that I swore I'd wear every day to remind me to fight for Jack. If someone ever asked, I'd tell them. I want to educate people about it.
Obviously, this mom had overheard the conversation I just had with Jack's teacher. She's the strung-out mom I've spoken of before. She brings her newborn baby to a class of 18 - 28 month olds and stashes her in her car seat in a corner and basically ignores her. Her older daughter, who is the one enrolled in the class, is about 6 months younger than Jack. She's very verbal, social, and a sweet girl, but her mom lashes out at her if she has an accident in class. She drags her around by the arm. If I didn't think highly of this mom before, I really didn't think highly of her now.
Something snapped inside me when I heard the "R" word. I was on my feet before I even realized what I was doing. The ignorant mom had been talking to another mom, who looked at me with a deer-in-the-headlights kind of look. I could tell she wanted to be anywhere but there. The other mom, the one who said it, just turned to me and stared. Not a stare that said, "Oops, busted", but one that said "Say something to me, I dare you."
"It is beyond insensitive to use that word. There are many children with many different abilities. Using that word to describe any of them is incredibly hurtful. He belongs here just as much as anyone else. He can teach your children a wonderful lesson in tolerance. I promise you, he won't be the only child with special needs that your children ever encounter.
"For the record, my son has a developmental disability. There are many, many things that he can do. He has come such a long way and he works harder than any 2 year ever should. He is smart, and funny, and the most amazing little boy in the world."
Rinnngggg! The tambourine. The mom stared for another second longer, then snatched her daughter's hand and walked away for the next activity. The innocent-bystander mom gave a weak smile and walked off to find her little girl. Rinnnngggg! Jack let out a little fret and scrambled into my lap. Blissfully unaware at what just happened, he fretted and leaned against me, so I rocked him for a couple of minutes. Suddenly, it hit me what had just gone down. I felt a lump in my throat and fought back the urge to cry.
I kept it together through the end of Gymboree. Not in front of Jack. Just make it to the car. I was able to do that. I put Jack in his car seat, handed him a snack of Cheerios and milk, and settled into the front seat. I sobbed as quietly as I could, with the Thomas the Tank Engine soundtrack and the sound of Jack's slurping and crunching in the background, and then, for whatever reason, I reached in my bag for a Skinny Cow candy bar (only 3 PointsPlus) and crammed it in my mouth whole. I then put the car in gear and drove off.
I'm okay now. It stung for a while, and it was a little bit before I could do it, but I got it down in the blog and felt a bit better. Jack's such a great kid. I wasn't upset because anything that mom said was true, because it wasn't. I was upset because someone said something hurtful about my son, whether she had the intelligence to realize it or not. As a mom, the wounds your kids take cut you twice as deep.
I know I've written about this before, but I'd urge you all to please think about what you say before you say it. Your words have far more power than you might imagine.