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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Dear Teacher: Please Don't Fall In Love With My Kid (But Of Course, I Want You To Fall In Love With My Kid)

Tonight was "Back To School" night at the elementary school, where David will be very shortly starting third grade. His teacher is sort-of new, having served as a long-term substitute for years there covering various maternity leaves before being hired on permanently. She was everything I like in a teacher: warm, funny, enthusiastic. She was lovely.

And she's already crazy in love with my son.

David couldn't be with me tonight, since this is the kids' week to vacation with their Dad, but she knew who I was the minute I said my last name.

"Oh, David's Mom! Oh my goodness, I can't tell you how happy I was when I saw him on my roster! I know him from the playground, of course. And the lunchroom. And in the halls when he'd be going to the learning-support room. He's just such a wonderful kid!"

I  love to hear it, of course. What mother wouldn't? And she's right, David is (as his first grade teacher so aptly put it) "Sunshine In A Bottle". He's smiley and funny and incredibly outgoing, especially so with adults - not as much with his peers, but he's getting there. He hasn't had a teacher or a therapist yet who hasn't fallen for him, head over heels. His daily aide has threatened to quit if they ever assign her to another kid - she's been at his side every year since kindergarten, and she even sees him over the summer for play dates. Even the lunch ladies all know him by name. If  I have to go to the school for any kind of event and we walk in the door together, it's like watching an old episode of "Cheers" - except instead of screaming "Norm!" everyone is shouting "David!" It's great.

But at the same time, it worries me. Are they challenging him enough? Math is a real struggle for him, and our nightly homework sessions can be a real bear to get through. I send in notes, I email, I voice my concerns at parent-teacher conferences and I'm told that he's doing fine, that they're making all kinds of accommodations for him and because of those accommodations, he's tracking right where he should be. He's reading pretty well, but writing is difficult and he often has trouble inferring things in a story line or retelling - and those are critical skills at this age to be developing. I'm told again that David is just fine for David, and we'll keep working with him.

And while I know my son will not always be measured the same way a child without autism will be measured, the Mom in me looks ahead to a future when he's grown and those accommodations don't exist anymore. It's my job to help him someday be as self-sufficient as possible, and that will most certainly include being able to read and write and do basic checkbook-type math with no help from anyone. All of that seems light-years away some nights when we're at the dining room table, doing homework.

I want my son loved. I want them to teach him the way that works best for him, but I don't want him overly coddled. He needs to be challenged, and like a lot of kids with autism, he needs to be pushed a bit out of his routines before he'll try something new. That's my job, but I need it to be his teacher's job, too.

I guess I need a teacher who loves him enough not to love him so much all the time.

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