Yesterday my thoughts kept taking me back to a day, a few years ago when Ted was a junior in high school and I spent the morning at school making hundreds of bite–sized sandwiches for that night’s graduation reception. I was always glad to help school. It felt like the least I could do. Ted was, after all, a challenge and a half.
With me that morning were three other mothers, and with the busyness of making tons of little sandwiches, came the inevitable conversation about our kids and their accomplishments.
And I was silent.
I wasn’t quiet because I had nothing to boast about, it was because what I had to boast about was so different. And it feels so awkward. And there are just times to get into it and other times you just shut-up and make sandwiches because it just doesn’t seem worth the effort to explain it all.
You see, I didn’t know any of these mothers because Ted didn’t have friends he saw outside of school. I didn’t drive to their houses to drop him off or host them at our house. The people I knew were his teachers, his principal (knew her REALLY well), his aide (knew her REALLY, REALLY well) and his case coordinator.
When I went to school it was for an IEP meeting or to see the principal to discuss the latest incident, or to volunteer, as I was that day, as a way to show my gratitude for working with Teddy.
I was constantly aware when he was in high school that he was in a magnet program and that he had to have both high grades AND good conduct to remain there. Because if he didn’t, well I’ll put it this way, according to Greatschools.com, Ted would have gone from a school rated 10/10 to a school rated 2/10 and where we could count his survival time in hours rather than days.
And my son was not involved in the activities their kids were in. It took all of Ted’s energy and patience to just make it through a day of school. Staying afterward to spend more time with people, to be part of a team or attend a sporting event in a loud gym was SO not what he wanted to do. And since having a problem free day was much more important to us, we didn’t push him to participate.
Instead, when Ted came home he spent his time decompressing, alone, at his computer. Instead of All-Conference Soccer player and Scholar Bowl Champion, he was ranked in the top 1% of RuneScape players (internationally, I might add). He sought out interaction that did not involve proximity to people.
He was the only student at his high school with autism, actually the only student with an IEP, and was the first special education student to graduate from his school. He was very unique in his situation and I lived a different high school mother experience than my sandwich-making comrades.
As I was remembering that morning and my decision not to mention Teddy’s RuneScape success, I started thinking about how our society celebrates successes that are very different from the ones, we, the parents of kids on the spectrum celebrate. Our experiences are not better or worse, they are just different, just as my story of being silent is not a sad one, it’s just my story.
Then this scene appeared in my mind…
The 1st Annual Aspie Awards
I imagined an awards show that was being carried on live TV, drawing millions of viewers with companies shelling out small fortunes for advertising time. There was the iconic red carpet receiving guests who had been loaned tens of thousands of dollars worth of gowns, jewels and tuxedos and the place was thick with reporters from every cable station doing interviews and snapping photographs, creating excitement, anticipation and hype. Inside the auditorium there was an elaborate stage, over-the-top production numbers and a witty host amusing us throughout the evening.
You can probably envision this pretty easily because we see it every year during the Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild and Academy Awards.
The awards in this show are not for Best Actress or Best Screenplay and the recipients aren’t actors or directors. Instead, being honored are our kids, who, like those honored in the real life award shows, spend their lives crafting how they appear to the world. Only, instead of memorizing lines from a make-believe script, our kids are spending the majority of their waking hours navigating their way through a script-less drama called life with autism.
And when their name is called to be honored, if they are in the audience at all, as many prefer to be at home participating via Skype, the lights are dimmed, heads do not turn towards them and the room is made quiet so their sensory systems do not get overwhelmed. If they can make it to the stage, they receive, instead of an Oscar, a Temple, in recognition for their accomplishments in categories such as…
Made It Through A Day Without Hitting
Verbalized A Need
Self-Managed My Sensory System
Stood In The Lunch Line
Spoke To A Classmate
Stayed Awake In Class
Located And Had Supplies Ready When Needed
Participated In PE/Recess
Had An Intervention Free Day
Made A Mistake AND Kept Going
Made Eye Contact
Achieved An IEP Goal
And of course, because it’s what started this,
Top 1% of RuneScape Players Internationally
Can you imagine????