From my years as a Project Manager, I’ve learned the importance of teamwork for a successful outcome. When I first faced the unknown obstacle of Gregory’s Asperger Syndrome, I tackled it the best way I knew how – with my ‘business analysis’ hat on to determine the best way to help Gregory improve his behaviors and coping skills. I researched as much as I could and then turned to recruiting key players within the school to become part of our ‘team’ to address these issues.
We were very fortunate that Gregory had a wonderfully experienced, nurturing woman as his 3rd grade teacher. Mrs. A had been working hard to help him, relying on her instincts, since we didn’t yet understand the issues. She was in fact, one of the people who drove my search for answers, after she made an insightful comment about Greg, “I think there is more going on here [than Tourettes]. I have never seen a child be so hard on himself.” Mrs. A would be the first prospective ‘team member’ that I approached.
The Monday after my fateful “Date Night Diagnosis” [see previous post], I presented Mrs. A with my suspected discovery. She wasn’t very familiar with AS, but she was thrilled that we had found a direction. She immediately wanted to know what she could do to help, so I provided her with a small booklet entitled: Simple Strategies That Work by Brenda Myles. I had my first team member on board… We were off and running!
In the weeks that followed, we initiated the IEP [Individual Education Plan] process and shared the news with other key personnel in the school. Our team was shaping up nicely, and as more and more information was shared with the various team members, strategies to support Greg within the school environment started to take shape.
Once Greg’s condition was officially diagnosed by the neurologist, I confirmed this with Mrs. A. Then she asked, “How would you feel about sharing Greg’s condition with the rest of the class?” I was shocked!!! Why should I further ‘label’ my son, who was already struggling with his peers? “I think it might help them understand him” she continued. I wasn’t comfortable with the idea, but I said that we would think about it.
I pondered the question… On one hand, I am a proponent of ‘knowledge is power’, so surely it would be positive to share the information? And my business experience further supported the idea of sharing information across the team…but were Greg’s classmates really part of his ‘team’? Would this just give them ammunition with which to torment him?
I tried to put my mothering instincts aside to think more objectively: If my child has already been unofficially labeled as ‘weird’ or ‘different’ by other kids, teachers and adults, then an official ‘label’ can only help matters. Knowledge of his diagnosis might help deflate negative judgments and promote acceptance of his problematic behaviors. I felt sure that Greg’s classmates had already unofficially ‘labeled’ him in their minds, so sharing the official diagnosis would be positive, right?
Gregory was already aware of his diagnosis and was a key player on his ‘team’, so following my belief in sharing information, I decided to discuss the question with him directly. I told Greg what Mrs. A had suggested and why, and then asked how he would feel about that. He thought about it for a minute and then slowly answered, “I think that would be OK.” I asked him if he was sure that he wanted the other kids to know about his AS and he said, “Yes, they might understand me better.” Alright….if he was comfortable with sharing the news, then maybe I should be too….
I then asked him if he wanted to be in the classroom while Mrs. A talked to the kids. As an alternative, Mrs. A had offered that he could help out the Kindergarten class with a project if he preferred. Greg was excited by that prospect and opted to help the Kindergarteners. So, we had a plan…and Gregory had surprised me once again by his open acceptance of his condition.
The day came when Mrs. A spoke to the class very sensitively about Gregory’s syndrome. (I was a nervous wreck all day!) She started by talking about how each of us is different and that some people have certain problems, like allergies or poor eyesight. (She used herself as an example, because she has both!) Mrs. A then described, at a very high level, some of the things that are difficult for Greg, and how the class might be able help him during those difficult periods. The kids not only listened, but were amazingly positive. Eager to show their new comprehension, they exclaimed, “Oh…THAT’S why he does” such and such behavior… And then the class brainstormed ideas on how they might support Gregory during his tough times.
I have to admit that it was a bit of a stretch for me to extend the ‘sharing of information’ to kids, but I accepted Mrs. A’s suggestion and followed Greg’s lead. After school Mrs. A assured me that it had gone even better than she expected. “The kids were SO accepting!” she marveled proudly. I’m sure the manner in which she presented had much to do with their response, and I give her full credit for its success.
And a complete success it has turned out to be! Now, instead of looking at Greg oddly as he retreats under his desk during a period of stress, some of his classmates will quietly kneel down to his level and try to calm him down. When they see him starting to get upset about something, they tell him, “Don’t worry Greg. It’s OK.” When he is in tears about some disappointment or frustration, the kids (both boys and girls!) check on him and try to cheer him up.
I witnessed it myself one day….and was awed by the kindness and sensitivity of his peers: I happened to be at the school playground for pick-up a few minutes early that day. Greg’s gym class was working on the Presidential Fitness module, and had just done the mile run. Greg, not particularly physically strong or coordinated, felt that he had ‘failed’ the test by not achieving the desired speed. He was sitting on the playground sobbing – feeling like a loser. One by one, a boy or a girl from his class approached him to see if he was okay and/or to try to cheer him up. “Greg, are you ok?” asked one concerned boy. “Don’t worry Greg, I didn’t make it either.” soothed one girl. And then the ‘pièce de résistance’, a girl who had previously teased and tormented Gregory repeatedly, approached him. I held my breath, afraid of how she might ridicule him and plunge him deeper into his emotional abyss. But no, she kindly said, “It’s OK Greg. You’ll do better next time.” I was dumbstruck…. Tears welled up in my eyes, grateful for the kindness of these children, who had been lead to understanding and acceptance through the guidance of their inspiring teacher. Thank you Mrs. A – You’re the MVP of our team!
No one has yet fully realized the wealth of sympathy, kindness, and generosity hidden in the soul of a child. The effort of every true education should be to unlock that treasure – Emma Golmam