I had the pleasure of attending an open house at my son’s school. His program is comprised of students who have a diagnosis of autism (high-functioning / Asperger’s Syndrome), ADHD and or anxiety. They could have one or a combination of all of these disabilities. The classrooms are small ranging from six to nine students. This allows for less noise and stimulation. The kids can get to know each other well, feel supported, and safe. And his teachers, past and present, have done an outstanding job creating a classroom culture that is like family. As the kids played games and socialized, parents were able to introduce themselves and spend a few minutes chatting; being a private school there are limited opportunities to socialize, and Jack in particular, lives fifty minutes away.
What is striking about the brief interactions I had with these women (there were only moms in the classroom at the time), was their level of candor and honesty. There was an invitation to be authentic and speak the truths that hold us together. A desire to hear stories about our kids, the paths that led us to this special school, and the things we still wonder about. One of the moms explained that she sold her house and moved to a different school district so that her child would have better support. The child attended the public school at first, then went on to a specialized program. When her needs were not being met academically, she was placed at this school. And now that her child, in sixth grade, is settled in and loving school, the mother said, “I don’t know what we are going to do about ninth grade. There are limited options…” Her story was familiar and so was her fear. I too, shared our story of arrival, and agreed that options for high school programs for high functioning kiddos were rare in our area.
Another mom and I discussed allergies and different types of therapy. Things that worked and didn’t work. She shared about the process it took to finally have her child diagnosed with a food allergy. She questioned, weighing pros and cons about the idea of integrating a behavior therapy program into her child’s life. Conversation went back and forth while we marveled at our kids laughing and playing together. The warmth and kindness along with the impulsive silliness was over flowing between these classmates. She said, “It’s so nice to see him play with a friend like this.” I knew what she meant. These were not surface words. They were deep and pulled on the strings that tethered my heart inside my chest, because I know that in having a kid with special needs, it is challenging for them to make connections. I know in my experience, having a kid that is compulsive and loud, can put other kids off. I know that having a kid that doesn’t read social cues and is awkward in his mannerisms is not going to have a gaggle of friends in the neighborhood to pal around with. In addition to social differences, attending and commuting to a school far away, does not lend for time to join activities that typical kids are participating in.
The beautiful thing is, as parents, we stand there and feel gratitude for this friendship that has occurred between our children, understanding the importance that it holds for each of them. We understand that it’s more than what is on the surface. That these little things, are BIG things. We have an understanding about the desperation that rests underneath the words of “he was finally diagnosed,” knowing the terrain of that road and the bravery it took every day to travel it. We understand the motive of selling a home and moving to a different town for the benefit of one child. Turning frustration into determination and willing things to be better. The journey that we, as mothers, have been walking on is not for the faint of heart. It is one, that has brought me to my knees, down in the dirt, praying for relief and answers, more times than I can say. But, what has risen up from that, is my authentic self. I am free to share the truth about what is real and what holds value. I am free to hold heart space for these women, recognizing the communion we have together, the commonalities we share.
There is great power in connecting with others. In our children’s differences we draw strength from our sameness. We are stronger together when we are vulnerable and real, by sharing our experiences, it automatically liberates us, ever reminding us, that we are not alone.