Autism Watch: 2007

Just Be Yourself — But Is That Good Advice?

Posted on: February 10, 2011

Recently, our school told us that BB was behaving oddly. Blurting out silly answers, being goofy and appearing to try these new tactics in order to fit in. I attended a class with him and watched, and sure enough, he was not being the BB I know from home. On the way home, after he vented on how he was missing his computer time, I asked him why he felt he needed to do that. A sad discussion followed.

Mom, I do it because, well, remember back home in CA? I was picked on there. Teased. Laughed at. No one did anything. People laughed at my hats and my glasses and I learned that the only way to not get teased was to not be myself. So now that I’m here, I’m going to be what doesn’t get me laughed at.

Sniff.

I understood, but assured him that it was fine to be himself. Wear what you want. Have your own style. Speak like BB, not ‘the cool kid.’ It seemed to work.

Fast-forward to yesterday. He’d decided to wear a cape to school, one from a local gaming place where you get in costume. Kids his age are in there all the time, wearing the cape. I realized it was a stretch, a risk, and that someone might tease, but I assured him that if he was going to do it, be prepared to ignore it. (And to realize that most kids who laugh at it probably do so because they’ve not been there and some wish they did. Let’s be real, these are kids we’re talking about and I know adults that have teased me about my obsession with Nascar and then reveal to me later they just wish they could attend as often as we did.)

Anyway, I picked him up amongst a flurry of phonecalls from various school staff. Yes, the kids laughed at his cape. No, they weren’t stopped. Yes, he was embarrassed. No, it wasn’t against dress code. Yes, they band-aided the problem by making him put it away instead of using it as an educational opportunity. The day got worse from there, and ended with him getting kicked in a private place by an unhappy classmate at the end of the day. Had that been BB, we’d have received a phonecall and it would have been taken uber-seriously; the nurse was very involved, and really good about it all, but I’d best get confirmation that the child was dealt with. They’re all over BB about ‘dress code violation’ and every other little thing, I expect them to be fair. They appear to be, but I still want proof. I’m still mom, after all.

So was being true to himself successful? Not in this case, sad as it may be. However, kids and adults have to learn that you are judged by your attire, right or wrong. If I went shopping today in my Aeropostale Christmas jammy pants and a knee-length purple tiger print hoody (both of which I own, btw, don’t hate) I’d get some stares, too. Some immature adults would probably audibly snicker. (I live in the south, where holey clothes and white t-shirts with no bra are acceptable, but there’s still a level at which you’ll get laughed at…it’s just a level that’s impossible to explain unless you lived here. I do promise you though, I do not leave the house in anywhere an outfit such as anything described above.) He does need to realize that there are some things you just need to watch out for, but it’s a hard thing to teach an autistic child that you can be yourself, have your true personality, but immaterial things like clothing and hats will be judged. And quite honestly, not sure I get it either, with all the “beauty’s on the inside” garbage that’s spewed all over the airwaves and magazines with thin beautiful people on the covers yet judgment happens 24/7 everywhere. For a literal child, it’s a minefield to navigate.

He’s at school today. Didn’t want to go, he was embarrassed yesterday and unhappy that he had to take off his favorite shirt for the class photo (still haven’t gotten an answer as to why a plaid flannel shirt on a cold day was unacceptable) but I’m hoping he has a better day. Sometimes people just need to lay off. Focus on the important things. Don’t nitpick. If he’s already been asked to remove a cape, drop it, let it be done. Don’t haul him into an office for more of a reason, especially a questionable one, and if he has to go to the bathroom during reading, let the poor kid go. You can’t fight every battle, and if all your battles are tiny ones, the real, true big issues are going to be lost because you can’t get through.

There are days that homeschooling is more and more appealing. Do I want to do it? No, but ridiculous attendance laws forcing a medically disabled child (he also has migraines) to go to school despite having a doctor’s note saying he is on medication and has this diagnosis, are harassment at best. Spending so much time daily trying to fix problems created by going to school, I could teach him in that time. Again, do I want to? No. Is it a last-resort? Definitely, but I’m not going to count it out if we can’t find a way for him to be happy while still being productively educated. I like his teacher, and I like his school, but school isn’t life, it’s just one part of it, and if school puts him in a bad mood, everything and everyone around him is affected.

Next blog entry I’ll update on the neurology appointment. New prescriptions, new headache diary and a list of things to avoid until a foll0w-up appointment to see if it works. Wish us luck.

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