When your child is non-verbal with Autism, you must rely on the word of his teachers a great deal in order to learn about his or her school day. For my son, his daily communications book has been invaluable in helping us incorporate classroom lessons into practice at home.
Every once in a while, our written communications are expanded to include updates of interest outside of his learning. One such note came about two weeks ago. After a paragraph or two about his recent progress, his teacher wrote:
Also, I just wanted to mention that another student pinched Lucas’s arm at lunch. He didn’t seem bothered, but we sent him to the nurse so she could put some ice on it just in case.
I immediately checked him out and saw no mark or bruise. I rubbed both of his arms and asked if he got hurt, but questions like that can usually go unanswered with my son. I figured if it was bad, he would have flinched when I rubbed it. He seemed completely fine. Combine that with the lack of visible injury and I wasn’t too worried.
I mean, after all, his class has other children with special needs in attendance and some of them can lash out at times. Just this year, at his class picnic, one of his fellow students kicked me square in the leg while we were enjoying a bowl of Pirate Booty. When I looked down, he had a big grin that made me smile rather than wince. The teachers all apologized and I played it off like I was fine. Truth be told, I was. Sure, it was more than a love tap, but I can take it. I ain’t made of glass. Plus I’ve caught more than my share of inadvertent headbutts both prior to and after having children – mostly after. So my threshold is a bit skewed anyway.
Suddenly, though, I realized something. Her note hadn’t specified that the pincher was a student in my son’s class. Lucas attends a mainstream school and, outside of his small group, nearly the whole student body is considered neurotypical. She said this happened at lunch, which meant that the list of suspects grew considerably.
My mind swiftly jumped to terrible conclusions and I could picture bullies surrounding my boy and pushing him in the cafeteria. My memory drummed up images of the bad kids from my days at Albany Avenue Elementary time traveling into my son’s school so they can pinch his arm. I wanted to snap, Rambo-style, but chose to verify some things first before I got too into my own head over it. I grabbed the book and, trying not to sound overly confrontational, wrote:
Hi. I just wanted to ask. Is this a child in Lucas’s class or a stranger kid from another class? I’m not happy that he was hurt either way, but it kind of makes a big difference.
It stuck in my head well into the next morning as I slid the book into his backpack and loaded him on the bus to school. My daughter, Olivia, was seated on the couch in my home office tying her shoes while I, at my computer, told her what happened to her little brother the day before. I had internalized the entire event and didn’t even think she was listening.
Lucas’s teacher says a kid pinched him at lunch. I wrote to her to see if it was a student in his class or a strange kid he never met before. If so, that’s not good.
She kept tying for a second, but quickly froze. She lifted her head up and, in a very stern tone, asked.
Wait a minute. This kid has Autism?
I’m not sure. That’s why I wrote to his teacher. I think so.
Her reply was something I’ll never forget.
He better have Autism or else he’s dead meat.
I know I shouldn’t say this, but I was never prouder of her than I was in that moment. I could tell from the sound of her voice that she was serious and her reaction was based on instinct alone. No one hurts her brother unless it’s beyond their own control. I don’t remember ever having to teach her that. She just felt it.
I gave her a hug and waited for him to return home so I could read his teacher’s answer. It turns out I didn’t have to wait that long.
Before Lucas even arrived back, his teacher had called me to explain. It turned out that it was a child in his class and this pinch was because my son had been eating something in his lunch that the boy wanted. Although there is always a teaching assistant by his side, she was seated on his opposite side. The boy’s actions lead to him being removed from the group until he could handle his impulses better.
She was apologetic and, although I always know that they have his best interests at heart, it made me feel so much better to hear it firsthand. It reminds me that my brain might project the bleakest world possible, but his world is actually far more supportive than I ever dreamed possible.
Most of my life had been spent battling others and fighting wars. When I had a child who would remain fairly vulnerable for an extended period of time, my biggest fear was how I could protect him without being by his side constantly. Every day that he rides away on that bus, a part of me imagines the worst. I’ve learned to suppress that natural desire to paint the darkest picture, but it’s still framed up in the gallery. It might not be the main exhibit, but I still hang it on the wall every morning.
Moments like this remind me that my son is a loved boy who has cultivated his own relationships far beyond my own observations. I have his back, but I’m not the only one. There are a full team of family, friends, loved ones, and professionals standing right there to protect him at all costs. For someone who always feared the worst, it couldn’t feel better to know that he’s surrounded by the best.