Each year at the elementary school it happens.
The teachers immediately voice their concerns, share their reservations about my son. They share how the seemingly “checked out” little man is not ready for “their” class. He is not ready for the rigor they tell me. They don’t think he can keep up and they voice all of these concerns before they have ever gotten to know him.
By now I am used to the reservations about my quiet and sometimes differently wired boy and I don’t push back anymore….instead I wait. I have learned to wait for it. Wait for them to come to their own conclusion. Wait for them to make the gasping discovery on their own and realize he is more than what they have imagined autism to be. He is more than they have been taught in their teaching classes. He does not fit well into their text book definition of who he should be because he is more and sometimes less than the definitions of autism they have memorized for exams.
So I wait for it.
The gasp usually arrives sometime in the fall. Typically around October or November. It always arrives before Thanksgiving. It arrives on a startled face with big eyes and a wacky smile and it arrives on shuffling feet as they dart out to catch me during pick up. It looks bright and it sounds inspired when they give me the back handed compliment that I have now memorized. Their words line up as, “I wasn’t sure he belonged here when he first started but,” and before they finish their sentence they look me in the eye like they are telling me brand new words I have never heard, and then they finish with, “he is really smart. That boy is brilliant. I couldn’t see it in the beginning but I see it now.” And I don’t use stern words or a holier-than-thou tone when I respond because I have waited for it. I simply say, “I know. He’s remarkable. That is the beauty of my boy. He has a quiet brilliance and if you are not careful, you can miss it. I’m glad you see it.”
A wave of relief washes over me at this point. The kind of wave that ushers rests. The kind of wave that feels safe. The kind of wave that quietly assures me, “You can stand down now. They understand.” They have been witness to his sparkle and they have arrived at a new and brilliant understanding of autism. They will go on to teach others and they will never again assume that a quiet child is less because they can finally see that different is not less.
In that moment I understand that they will not only become a better teacher but they will go on to save other kiddos by loving who they are and giving them that chance they did not want to give my son. The next time they will assume competence rather than crying foul and predicting failure. This kind of wave that washes over me is one that says this teacher finally understands in their own heart what real autism awareness is, beyond text books and studies, and my boy and the wave have just transformed one more non-believer into a seasoned ambassador for autism awareness. The kind of ambassador that will stay behind after my boy leaves their class at the end of the year and who will become another cornerstone of autism awareness, understanding and equal value for all students. And all because one radiant child who was differently wired from the rest showed that there is not one simple version of autism that deserves to be educated. Every child is an original and able and should be equally valued. And I am encouraged because I know, with statistics now announcing 1 in 88 children are affected by autism and an astounding 1 in 54 boys, there will be many more kiddos coming after my boy and they will need this teacher, this new autism ambassador, to ride that wave and to recruit more ambassadors so that equality and assuming competence is something that will be part of every child’s education.