Click to hear Heather read her story:
My son, Kai, has autism. He attends a 100% contained classroom in a large public school. When he does have to leave the classroom, he always has an adult para with him. Kai can talk but cannot read. He has problems with following directions of more than 2 small tasks at a time without being re-directed. We are working on teaching him to tie his shoes and have been working on this since he was 6 years old, he is now 12.
Recently, his teacher let me know that Kai had received two academic achievement awards and the ceremony would be in front of the entire 6th and 7th grades. We are very fortunate that we live in an area where academic achievements are truly celebrated by the community. It’s kind of a big deal here. There were going to be many, many “typical” children there and their families. The gymnasium would be crowded, the ceremony long (over 1 1/2 hours) and there would be no traditional support system for my son. He would be flying solo. It would also be the first time the entire student body would see my son on his own. He rocks, moans, and can yell out very inappropriate words-while it can be funny to 12 and 13 year old children, it would be very disrespectful to them and their families. After all, nearly 70 students of his 6th grade classmates were being honored for getting straight A s, and nearly as many 7th graders were honored for scoring better on the SATs than 50% of American high school students. These kids were not kidding around.
When Kai’s teacher told me about the awards I was so happy for him. Then she told me what the ceremony would be like, I was hesitant to even tell him about it. I said to her, “I don’t think he can do it. He has never, that I have known, sat still and quiet for more than a few minutes at a time. I am worried that he will get up to receive the award and then start walking around, making noises. It would be a huge distraction.” His teacher agreed and assured me that they would have a ceremony for him in his tucked away classroom of 6 boys.
One of the things about being a mother of a child with special needs is I have learned to trust my gut and my gut was telling me I would be a real jerk if I didn’t tell him. So, I told him about the awards and the ceremony. He looked at me and said “ I want to try.” I told him in a very serious way that he would have to be quiet and still for a long, long time. If he made noise, he would have to leave. He insisted he could do it. I told his teacher via email and we went back and forth about it. She was kind and told me that she would let the administration know and she would have practice runs in class to prepare him.
Kai woke up the morning of the ceremony and told me he was excited to go that night. My heart sank a little, I was secretly hoping that he would change his mind. My husband confided in me that he too felt the same way. We were both sure he would struggle.
We went to the ceremony, it was packed, HOT, loud and bright. All the things that can trigger the very craziest of his noises and movements.
The ceremony began on time and Kai sat like a statue. He was quiet and still. When he received his first award for Best Actor in a Comedy ( a truly funny, short video in which my kid plays a ghost), about 40 minutes in, he stood up, walked to the podium, shook his teacher’s hand and turned around and put his certificate up over his head like Sally Fields did in Norma Rae, you know, Strike! He look confused as to what to do next, and then the kids around him started to gesture. They created a silent “path” with their 12 year old hands. He followed it back to his row and then the guy who had been sitting next to him, gently patted the empty seat. Kai silently moved to the seat and sat down. He did the same thing again about 20 minutes later when honored for the Stellar Participation award in P.E. He never once rocked, swayed, moaned or yelled out. He did exactly what he was supposed to do. I couldn’t believe it. I looked at my husband. There were tears in his eyes. The big softy.
Kai’s teachers, administrators, my husband and even I, had put limits on this kid. It was a big moment for him, but also for me. I thought my heart would burst from pride. Nearly everything Kai can do today has been through hard work and it has often been a long, slow road, but it is progress. He’s just on a different time table.
However, I am a little embarrassed that I misjudged him. I know this kid better than anyone on the planet and I was wrong. Even though it was coming from a place of love and protection, I had imposed limits that were not valid anymore. It was time to start trying new things. This event had a profound effect on me and I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
So, I’ve decided I want to embrace Kai’s attitude of “I want to try”. I believe this is something that should be cultivated, treasured even. I don’t have to be perfect, I don’t have to even be very good at first. I can even fail. I need to stop comparing myself to others in my life, personal or business, and realize that, I too, am on a different time table.
I am a voice over actor that has started to have some small successes. I truly love what I do and I believe I am good at it, but from time to time there is that voice in my head that creeps in and limits me. A voice that says things like “You can’t do that, you’re not ready.” or “You aren’t enough.” or “You won’t be able to do that. It will be too hard”. I believe this voice wants to protect me and doesn’t want to see me struggle. However, like my son, it is time to expect more from myself.
So, if you are thinking about reevaluating your own limits, here are the Cliff’s Notes to Kai’s success: 1. Practice (training) so when you get there you will have some idea of what to expect. 2. Surround yourself with people who can help if you get lost 3. Try with all your might.