Tuesday, September 12, 2006

B talks the talk...

B told his teachers yesterday that he wanted to talk to his class (& the other 5th-6th grade class) this afternoon about why he tics & about his Asperger's. The reason that he wanted to do this was to forestall any misunderstandings about his behaviours, particularly any thought that he might be ticcing to get attention... this is a real hot issue for B & this isn't the first time he's done difficult things to make sure people understand why he tics. He had asked me to be there for support, & I got to school about 10 minutes before he was going to speak. I managed to catch the end of his first music class of the year, which was a really fun (& hilarious) exercise in "theatre of the absurd" :) It was a nice intro to B's time to speak because everyone was relaxed & cheerful when they filed into B's room. I had caught-up with our friend Paula, new interim director of B's school, & whose college-age son is B's good friend & mentor, to let her know what B was going to do. She found a seat at the back of the room as B went to the front & asked me to sit beside him.

He was a bit more nervous than he'd been last year, & started out by explaining that he has a neurological difference (the term he settled on to replace "disorder") called Tourette's that gives him tics, & then he demonstrated a tic so everybody would recognise them for what they are. He said that he doens't have much control over the tics & that they are triggered by different things, like smells he doesn't like. He mumbled a bit about having Aspergers & OCD, but then seemed at a loss at that point, so his teacher, Jen, asked him to speak a bit more about the Aspergers, saying that she had learned a lot from his talk last year. B looked at me & I asked him if he could think of any things about AS that makes him do things differently. He made a beeline through the kids sitting on the floor to his desk, & pulled out his Alpha Smart, which had been delivered just today. He explained that because of AS he has trouble writing & uses the Alpha instead. The consultant teacher chimed-in that there are other kids in the classes that use Alphas or laptops as well, for many different reasons, & those kids spontaneously raised their hands & said what they use. B & I also spoke about how the AS makes it difficult for him to tell if he's being teased sometimes, so if he ever responds very seriously to fun teasing then they'll know why. B then explained that there are advantages to having AS. Good concentration & imagination are things he likes about having AS. B talked about the OCD, too, & how it makes him worry about things that have "about a 1% chance in quadrillion of happening" & that the worries can trigger tics for him. I mentioned that B chews gum in school because it helps him to focus & calm down. Paula raised her hand then & added that her son, who many of the kids in the class know (he went to B's school before high school & sometimes came back to visit her class), also has AS & found that his intense interest in airplanes helped him to learn to fly a plane last year. One of the other kids talked about his older brother with autism, & his interests, & I added that autism was another word used in connexion with AS. We talked about how everyone with AS doesn't have Tourettes or OCD. B then mentioned that there are different kinds of autism, & one called Kanner's makes people have difficulty communicating & doing other things, but that these folks can be just as smart as anyone else. B then took questions & comments, & one boy talked about the school he went to the previous year, where he was called a "retard" because he needed to chew things to stay calm, & he kept getting sent to the principal's office for chewing toothpicks & tape in class. We agreed that he had finally found a "chewing-friendly" school! A few kids told B that they thought he was courageous for speaking to them about his differences. B said that he would be happy to talk privately with them if they ever had questions. They applauded, then B thanked them all for listening. As they were getting homework & putting things away, more kids came up to B & said "good job" & patted him on the back.

As I looked around the room at the kids' faces, while B spoke, I saw many expressions. At first some were wary, not sure what was coming. As B spoke, & other kids added their comments, the faces became more open & interested. I sensed the stress level of the room dropping as they became engaged by B's words. Some of the kids who know him & heard him speak last year had encouraging looks on their faces. I saw the potential for misunderstandings dwindling in the face of B's honesty about himself & his feelings about his differences. I saw the potential for support & comfort between a group of varied & quirky kids growing. After he was done Jen told him she was proud of the leadership he'd shown. You really could see that this crowd was more likely to think twice before being unkind to each other based on their differences, thanks to B's role modelling.

B was definitely wiped out afterward, & he & his teacher agreed that he could do his homework tomorrow at school. His consultant teacher, Cherie, remarked that she wished they could tape B talking about his differences some year. I like this school very much, as you can imagine. No one said the word "inspiring" :) This school is committed to building community among the students & their acceptance of all kids, their gifts & difficulties, as a whole people bodes well for success in this effort.

On the way home B requested popcorn & Canadian tea for snack (major comfort foods for both of us :). We sat down in front of another rented Pokemon movie & ate our snack together, & just relaxed. I am a lucky mom...


At 10:20 PM, Blogger Kristina Chew said...

3 cheers plus for B----this is wonderful! So impressed.

At 9:10 PM, Blogger Michelle O'Neil said...

Hello. I found your blog in an Asperger's search. I noted you haven't posted in a year but I am hoping you might still be checking your comments?

The school your son attends sounds amazing. We are currently researching school possiblities for our six year old daughter, who has Aspergers and a tic disorder.

We are willing to relocate.Would you be willing to send me info about your son's school?

My e-mail is: lifeorileyo@comcast.net

Thank you! I hope things are still going well for you and your son!


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