A long while back, I was confronted with a very typical issue for a very non-typical boy. My son, who is on the Spectrum, tried to engage two little girls on a playground. He did everything as he was taught in his school for children with ASD. In his sweet little voice, he introduced himself. He asked to play with them. He asked their names as he flapped his little arms. The little girls told him to go away. Softly, they spoke to each other how they thought he was weird; how he was annoying them. These girls were also older than he. I tried to step in at that point and mediate without making my son feel odd. I let them know that he liked them and was still little, hoping they would be triggered into a sweet concern. I told them that he wanted to play, but they insisted they wanted to be alone. I’ll be honest, I was so floored by the rejection of my 5-year-old baby by two 7-year-old girls that I didn’t even think to ask them to remember to just be kind. Even if you don’t want to play, just be kind. Is that so awful? Be kind! I still get sad thinking of how hard he tries every day and how helpless I feel as an observer to his struggles. I know all children, even those little girls, are dealing with emotions and self-esteem they barely know how to make sense of. He has told me the kids at his school don’t like him because he is too small, and he is too young to understand that they, too, are struggling. He feels that neither world accepts him. How do I explain this complication of the young human condition so it makes sense to him?
What does his world feel like? Where does he belong? He lives with a foot in two worlds. He starts school this year without me and without the safety of a school designed for those like him and his peers, in a typical school without those who see his differences as nothing new, and without children who see nothing out of the ordinary in his quirky behaviors. No matter how excited he is, imagine how frightening it can be. Just imagine.
Imagine in your mind you are stepping off a plane into a new country. You are excited, tired, and hungry. How do you feel as your eyes adjust and people you didn’t expect to be right there start whooshing by, swearing at you in a language you knew well enough in practice, but can barely understand in person? How do you feel as the voices start to meld together and begin hopping from one uncertain sound to the next? You don’t know where you are, or where you need to go, and you can’t hear the announcements or read the signs fast enough to know the answer. You’re hungry, but every sweet-smelling dessert is clinging tightly to someone’s strong cologne. The sights, smells, noises, and voices make it impossible to not want to scream at the next person who gets too close. You step out to speak to anyone, but you can’t seem to converse and their impatience at your processing time has caused them to turn away, irritated. Still, here you are in a new place; a place you may never feel completely at home in but where you must learn to fit in anyway.
I cannot keep my son from the lessons and the bruises on his path, nor can I keep my daughter from the lessons she must struggle through which will be uniquely hers. I can only hope I can teach them it will be okay. I pray that they learn to empathize through their own struggles. I long for them to find their own friends who will hold their hand when I am not there. I can be with them for now, and advocate on their behalf, but there is a time-limit, and every second it’s counting down. I can teach them this world may never be a perfect fit, but they may be a perfect fit for their own part of it. I can teach them to accept and embrace the differences between themselves and others; I can reach out and share my hopes and fears. Ultimately, I knew I could write him a story where the ending is as it should be, where people are kind and see deeper than just what shows on the surface.
I believe strongly in inclusion, and as much as I want to live in a bubble, I know I can’t. Holding tightly to my babies lying down at night while my husband worked on his master’s degree, I wrote. I wrote originally to explain to my friends, then to my son.
I feel the shame as people tell me he is a distraction, and I sense the judgment, but my part is to guide my children and show them how to problem solve. What lesson do I teach them if I can’t control myself? My son’s friends with Autism will always accept who he is, yet even they will travel different roads than he. I know now that my son needs to hear that he, too, was made to belong. We all are. This is the world he must live in. If I wanted him to live in France and fit in with that culture, I can’t just teach him French or feed him crepes and hope that if I throw him on the Rue De Flueres, he can find his way to a train station and maybe make friends on the way. So on my little Samsung phone, I put my big fat thumbs to work to tell a tale for my son. My fear of the coming Kindergarten year, still 3 years away, was crawling up my back as I wrote him a story of a boy who wants nothing more than to be French. Where does he belong? In France, or America? With one foot in each world, does he find his home in either, or perhaps both? The little boy in the story, Brady, discovers that although he may never be French, he does belong. We all do!
Did you know that the Eiffel tower once divided France as to its place within their landscape? Now, its very uniqueness is that which defines the remarkable innovation and beatific insight that is oh so very French. We belong! Each of us is a piece of a larger puzzle. The Eiffel tower is made up of over 18,000 parts. The different sizes and shapes all work together to create one of the most stunning pieces of towering strength – and artistic beauty – that exists on this earth. If even one piece is taken out, what would become of her?
We are different, but we are equally important in this world. Who are we to decide the purpose of any one person just because we can’t see it. Maybe we are lacking in vision and not they in decorum. In every instance, whether we choose to play together, work together, or be together, let us be kind. We may not always like the same things, or come from the same backgrounds, but we can choose to be kind and considerate. We can choose to see the view of the world through the eyes of another and acknowledge its value.
“To France, it’s beauty is wonderful and expected. To you, its beauty is new and spectacular. Yours are the eyes France has not yet been seen through. Do not deprive this world of the view only you can see.”
-You May Never Be French
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