Sunday, September 30, 2012

Dog Days

Little A's class studied dogs for the past month or so. The culminating activity for this module was a field trip to a dog training and grooming centre.

For the first time in ages, I was able to see my son in his "school" setting. To my surprise and delight, he sat quietly in his seat nearly the entire time that the dog demonstration was held. He did not volunteer to interact or feed the dogs the way his other classmates did, but when students were set in pairs so the dog could jump over their legs, he indiated that he wanted to be a part of this activity.

Sadly, since there are an odd number of students in his class, Little A was left without a partner. He was assigned to give the dog his treat after it had jumped over all the pairs of student legs - a task he didn't particularly want, since he has been told by me that he shouldn't put his hand near a dog's mouth. I felt very strongly at this instance that my son was being made to stand out because he was different, and I know Little A felt this way, too.

One of his therapists told me that a mother of her other students used to cry, after sitting with the other mothers in her child's class and listening to them, every day, making play dates for their children. Her special needs child was never once invited, and she thought it incredibly insensitive of the other mothers to continually set future play dates right in front of her without even acknowledging that her child was in the same class as theirs. Too polite to speak up, she would keep a stiff upper lip until she was with other mothers of children like hers, and then break down.

I felt for her, because I, too, have heard not only the mothers or nannies, but the children inviting each other home every day after class is dismissed. No one has ever invited Little A. I try to console myself by thinking he's so busy anyway that he wouldn't have time to attend the play dates, but the truth is, I know he feels so different and left out, and my heart bleeds for him.

Lately, on his iPad, he types phrases I've never encountered in my time with him: Super Mario, Little Ponoe (for Little Pony). When I asked his teachers, they admitted that his classmates talk about these characters during free play time. Little A often sits near them in parallel play, and while he may not be able to participate in the conversations, he very obviously pays attention to them.

Only one mother so far in Little A's class has ever expressed some sort of awareness about these differences in the children. We were waiting for the class to be dismissed, and the invitable "where-are-you-applying-your-son/daughter-for-big-school" conversation came up. This mum said top of her list was a school nearby that mainstreams special needs children with regular ones, and this was precisely the reason she wanted her neurotypical daughter to attend this school, so she could be more aware of other kids and their differences. My heart warmed when I heard this, and I wanted to hug this woman I barely knew, despite the fact that neither she nor her daughter have ever asked us for a play date.

I am grateful for parents and children who recognize my son's differences and diffiulties and not only accept them but go out of their way to make things comfortable for him. There are far too few people who do. Reccently, Little A did get to attend a party play date for a friend's daughter. He didn't want to join the mayhem of the soft play centre, but he enjoyed the other activities, and gamely posed with the girls for photos at cake blowing time. Moments like those are all we need. Add up enough of them, and Little A no longer feels lonely and left out.

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