My oldest child does not fit the mold. In preschool concerns of Autism were mentioned. We weren’t convinced, but we were worried. Yes, Anders was reading and writing grade levels above preK, yet lagging behind in social/emotional development. I was aware that he wasn’t quite like other kids in picking up on social cues and accepted norms. He needed to be taught those. He easily becomes anxious. He has a very hard time expressing his feelings verbally when he’s upset. My husband and I could see that he was different, but we didn’t want him labeled.
We also didn’t want (and couldn’t afford) any in-depth testing done for our son. We just didn’t think that the differences were extreme enough to put him through a major evaluation which would create anxiety and possibly give him the idea that there was something wrong with him. However, we did agree to do the school-district special ed kindergarten screening where we could be present. We slowly released that breath we were holding when the specialist said that she wasn’t too concerned. She told us, “He may be a little different, but I don’t see that holding him back.” I even brought up the concerns with our pediatrician (who specialized in Autism-spectrum disorders) at his 5-yr check-up. She spent 5 minutes with him and said there was no need for testing. It was reassuring to hear “Even if he is somewhere on the spectrum he would be so high-functioning that I wouldn’t worry about it.” Insert another huge sigh of relief!
That didn’t mean Anders’ struggles were over. We tried public school kindergarten, but it was such an over-stimulating environment and irregular schedule that he wasn’t learning and spent more time distracting other children. I was hoping kindergarten would be more play-based learning, but it was a lot of sit-down work that Anders already knew. He was fine leaving me in the morning and seemed to like school, but watching him in his classroom one morning I could see that he didn’t fit in. He didn’t want to sit down. He paid no attention to the teacher during the group lessons. Instead he watched and tried to talk to other students. He knew how to read, but couldn’t say the listed 100 random letters quickly enough (within 60 seconds) to pass kindergarten. He also couldn’t walk down the hall without holding his teacher’s hand. He loved playing on the playground with his class, but refused to eat in the cafeteria and go to recess with the whole student body present.
In my search to better understand my son I came across some books that were a big encouragement to me. Cynthia Ulrich Tobias (featured on Focus on the Family) wrote a couple of books about learning styles that totally opened my eyes. Instead of focusing on labels and disorders the books taught me that Anders’ sees the world in a very differnt way than I do, but that’s not a bad thing! With a lot of examples in her books, I learned more about myself, each of my children, and even a deeper understanding of my husband. It changed me from asking “what’s wrong with my child?” or “why doesn’t he fit in?” to “who has God made my child to be?” and “how can I work with his strengths and weaknesses?”. What a difference that perspective makes!
Yup, my son doesn’t fit the mold. But I no longer think that’s a bad thing. He’s an original! We all are. Insteading of forcing Anders to fit the system, we’ve found a system that fits him!
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