Today, I was reminded how truly lovely and uplifting it is to hear positive words about T from the very professionals that work with him or just know him. This happened today quite unexpectedly and it has left me smiling inside since this afternoon. I went to pick up T from middle school, as I do everyday. I go inside and hang out in the entryway, waiting for T to arrive. During that time, I usually enjoy a few moments to chat quickly with his teacher - to hear how he’s doing, if there were any great or not-so-great things that I needed to know about, etc. Nine times out of ten, I am hearing about cool things that T did (or tried to do), and little triumphs he had that day. I usually come away feeling pretty good about where T is spending his days and his time.
Today his teacher wasn’t available to chat for long, so I waited for T to pack up his backpack & put on his coat (completely independently, by the way!). The assistant principal, who was monitoring the hallways during class change time, saw that I was on my own and approached me, asking if I was T’s mom. He then told me just how much they enjoy having T at school everyday, and how well he is doing. I grinned and thanked him, and said that he does have a way to getting into people’s hearts. The assistant principal agreed wholeheartedly, and proceeded to tell me that the students & teachers really like him. He then put his hand on my shoulder, looked me in the eye, and said, “Never underestimate how important it is that he is here. The students learn so much having him here. He makes them grow up and think less of themselves. And he learns so much from them too. It is so good to see.”
Looking back at him, I took a deep breath to take that all in, and thanked him for those kind words – and told him it meant a lot to hear that. At that moment, T was approaching with his huge smile, and I said to the assistant principal, “Look how happy he is here. He is really happy being here.”
And with that, the bubble burst. One of the para-educators from T’s classroom walked up with T and proceeded to tell me how much the zipper on his backpack really made him mad. (Um, yeah – he looks really mad with that wide smile across his face.) So I just said that yes, that can irritate him but it is usually short-lived. This is not the first time, or the only para, that brings him to me with this sort of update.
Then I started thinking about communication. How often do we, as parents of children with disabilities, hear about every minor infraction, every frustration expressed, every mis-step? If the para were to bring him to me everyday, I would probably get very little feedback other than “the backpack irritated him”, "he was grumpy today" or “he pushed me away” or some other imperfection of his day instead of how hard he tried in math class, or the cool experiment he got to see and help with in science.
It was a fantastic “compare and contrast” moment. Have no fear: the little minor frustration expressed by the para in no way diminished the wonderful exchange I had with the assistant principal.
Parting words: if you are professional working with kids with special needs (or heck, ANY kid!), don’t start off a conversation with me by telling about every minor infraction or frustration you have with my son. If you need to brainstorm with me, ask – I’m happy to do so. But remember, any minor frustration you have, we experience at home every other hour of the day. I know about them and don’t need to hear about them. In the words of a dear departed friend: “Three rules of communicating with others: Be kind. Be kind. Be kind.” Thanks, Mr. Assistant Principal, for being kind today.