Monday, November 23, 2009

Word to the Wise

Dear Kindergarten Parents,
Have your children mentioned a curly haired blonde boy in their class who sometimes has quirky behavior? That would be our son, Rooster, and we want to let you know that, despite his quirks, Roo has more in common with his classmates than he has differences, but that his differences stem from autism.

Rooster does not know about this diagnosis yet, and we want him to hear about it from us, not through conversations with classmates. For this reason, we ask that you please NOT mention his diagnosis to your children until we are ready to talk to him first. We are writing to you in the hope that you will understand our son a little better and feel inspired as we do to help our children become friends.

Autism gets a lot of attention in the news lately, but the media often doesn’t provide a very clear explanation of what autism is, probably because autism isn’t just one thing. Autism is called a “spectrum” because it includes many kinds of disorders. Some people might think of the movie Rain Man, assuming any person with autism is shy, does certain odd things over and over again, and has a special kind of genius. Our son does not have that kind of autism. Rooster is a talkative little boy who is intelligent, affectionate, creative, and loves to make friends. Because he does have so much in common with typical kids, it’s no surprise that people can feel confused by his behaviors and his language. That’s why we thought it would be a good idea to write you this letter, and hopefully help you if your kids have questions.

What does autism mean for the Rooster? For one thing, he has some communication challenges. He has a huge vocabulary, but it’s very hard for him to say what he means. The thoughts are there, but they often come out jumbled, and he gets frustrated sometimes trying to express himself. Sometimes that causes him to “talk nonsense,” or to start a conversation in the middle without any context, or to quote something he memorized from a book or movie. He also has trouble making sense of what people say to him. He just can't listen as fast as most of your children talk, so he takes a while to answer questions, and sometimes he misunderstands what he hears. It’s like trying to read this letter if someone marked out every third or fourth word – it would be confusing and frustrating.

When Rooster gets frustrated, his behavior isn't always ideal. For that reason, we work on language and behavior skills with a trained specialist after school for two hours every day, 10 hours a week.

Our Roo has autism. It's just one more fact about him, like his brown eyes and his curls. We certainly don't want to ever use it as an excuse for him to be anything less than his best, and we expect him to learn how to adapt to the world around him, not the other way around. We also don’t consider his diagnosis a secret or a cause for shame. Rooster hasn’t learned about the word “autism” yet because we don’t feel that at age 5 he is ready to comprehend it or to put that word to good use. But we feel like if we help adults in his community understand it, they can help children be accepting of all children, tolerate all people’s quirks, and be patient with our boy in particular. We know that he has a lot to offer friends, as well as a lot to learn from them.

We are new to this school and we are eager to build a sense of community where our family can make friends, give back, learn and grow. We are always happy to answer any questions anyone in his community might have about autism, or, more importantly, about Rooster. If you have the chance, we hope you'll introduce yourselves to us at school, or by email or phone. We are eager to know you, and to know your children, too. We hope for a happy and successful year for all of Mrs. Smith's* kindergarten class.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this.

1 comment:

pixiemama said...

It's awesome, as are you.