Why We Should Support More and Judge Less
Children are the most powerful teachers. But, in a world filled with judgment and criticism, important life lessons are often overlooked. I admire parents who bravely navigate the challenging world of raising a child with special needs.
Children with Autism, in particular, bring a unique set of joys and trials.
A friend of mine, Patti Digh, occasionally shares glimpses into her world as a parent of a child with Asperger’s Syndrome. She wrote about a particularly challenging day and labeled it as one of her daughter’s “Days of Despair.”
Her story reminded me of an experience I had with a student named Alex.
I was a little nervous about having Alex in my class. Alex not only had autism, but his dad was a high-ranking military officer and very involved in his son’s education. Alex was placed in my fourth-grade class because of my experience with special education, although this class was a general education class with 30 other students.
Alex quickly became one of my favorite students (teachers who tell you they don’t have favorites are in denial). He was incredibly brilliant in math, science, and music. His peers genuinely liked him and he had a best friend named Rachel (also in my class).
Occasionally, Alex would have full, uncontrollable meltdowns. When Alex had his “Days of Despair,” Rachel was often the only person who could calm him. Watching the special connection with Rachel and Alex melted my heart on so many occasions.
Having prior experience teaching students with autism, I worked hard to create a successful environment for Alex. Although, I’ll admit I was occasionally bewildered with trying to meet his needs.
I clearly remember one normal day in January. It was time to change seats. It wasn’t the first time, but this time, Alex reacted strongly against the idea. He wasn’t upset about changing seats per se. He simply didn’t want to sit on the right side of the desk. His theory was that
He wasn’t upset about changing seats per se. He simply didn’t want to sit on the right side of the desk. His theory was that smart kids didn’t sit on the right side. He was a smart kid; therefore, should remain on the left side.
I tried to reason with him by appealing to his logic saying, “But Alex, Rachel sits on the right side of a desk. She’s very smart.” He stopped crying, thought deeply for a few minutes, and then screamed and cried uncontrollably. He couldn’t rationalize these two pieces of information. I removed the other students and called the principal in an attempt to calm him.
Several minutes later, the principal and Alex left to take a walk, Alex still sniffling with tears falling down his cheeks. Returning an hour later, he sat in his assigned seat without protest.
Later that day, the principal asked me if I thought I had responded appropriately. I said I didn’t know. As a teacher, I strived to operate from a place of compassion. Although, knowing what is best for a child who gets stuck in a place even he doesn’t understand, is difficult at best.
In hindsight, maybe I should’ve allowed Alex to sit on the left side. Yet, I knew that Alex wouldn’t always be in a situation wherein he could choose. My goal was to provide opportunities for him to work through situations that were scary to him, in a safe and supportive environment.
I often wonder about Alex as a young adult. In my dreams, he is happily pursuing college and/or starting an amazing business, surrounded by people who know how to allow space and appreciate his sense of humor and brilliance.
Here’s a true confession. In my twenties, I was less compassionate and understanding of parents who struggled with disciplining their children, believing that poor behaviors mostly stemmed from a lack of parenting skills. Boy, did I get that wrong!
“It’s not our job to play judge and jury, to determine who is worthy of our kindness and who is not. We just need to be kind, unconditionally and without ulterior motive, even—or rather, especially—when we’d prefer not to be.” ~Josh Radnor
Parenting and teaching keep me humble. I strive to judge less and support more.
Often, all a child (or parent) needs is a safe place to grow and learn. The next time you see a child having a meltdown in a grocery store, please remember that we all experience our own “Days of Despair.”
Most of all, be kind… always.
What is that ‘something special’ about your child(ren) you wish others better understood? Please share in the comment section below.