Trust is a funny thing. By the time you reach adulthood, you’ve had your trust broken enough times to know that not everyone has your best interests at heart.
It’s a slow burn that takes many years to drill the point home. It’s your prized middle school teacher getting his private Polaroid collection exposed to the world or the sports star who committed unspeakable atrocities against his family or a million other depressing examples. Either way, the world before us is full of layers and the people in it have many to peel.
It becomes a harder pill to swallow when you have children. You hand your most cherished humans over to other humans every day. Coaches, teachers, babysitters, and relatives all come with smiles on their faces and you pray that they’re not wearing masks of duplicity. All you can do is hope that what you see is what you get, despite a lifetime of observing otherwise.
That’s why you see those memes every once in a while on social media from a mom or dad that says, “I am super nice, but if you mess with my kids, I will kill you.” There’s nothing funny about the images of cartoon grizzly bear or anything profound in the wording. Usually, I scroll past, but still, I get it. Placing our trust in others all day is a necessity of life. So sometimes you need to remind those others that, if they mess with your treasured people, you will crush them.
Most people reading this can relate. We have children and, if you don’t, you have young people in your life that you care for. I have seen venomous protection from aunts, uncles, grandparents, and family friends. You don’t have to biologically create a kid in order to want to protect them at any cost. Defending the home team isn’t about the people who live in your actual home. It’s about the people who live in your heart.
While many children might not be so forthcoming about the hidden villains in their lives, many loved ones still have peace of mind by being able to ask them, “Is everything OK at school?” They get that surface assurance and life is, for the most part, all good. If not, they can sometimes read deeper into their responses. I do that with my daughter.
My son, however, doesn’t speak. As a non-verbal boy with Autism, I give him over every day to people who I have to trust with my whole heart. It’s the strangest feeling I ever had and one that, even all these years into it, still feels unnatural.
Sure, Lucas can use his device to ask me for pizza or show me where he banged his foot, but he can’t go into details on his memories of the day. I can’t say, “Did the bus driver yell at you?” He can’t explain that the lunch lady is mean. He just comes home and we hang out. It’s through my own observations that I get a true read on how things are for him. Between his mood and the messages written in his communication notebook by his teachers, that’s how I get a handle on how he has been.
For parents who are still getting used to having a non-verbal child, it’s difficult to know what to do in those initial meetings with the adults in your child with autism’s life. Meeting a new teacher at “Back To School Night” presents you with an interesting dilemma. As I listen to the plans for the year, while crammed into a miniature desk, my brain often tells me to go full Joe Pesci and, when asked if there are any questions or concerns, raise my hand.
Yes? Lucas’s Dad?
Yes. I just wanted to say that if there is a problem with my kid, I might just come in here tomorrow, walk into the teacher’s lounge and crack your head wide-open in front of everybody in the lounge. And just about the time that I’m comin’ out of jail, hopefully, you’ll be coming out of your coma. And guess what? I’ll split your head open again. ‘Cause I’m stupid. I don’t care about jail. That’s my business. That’s what I do.
Then she’ll say:
Isn’t that the scene from Casino?
And I’ll say:
Shut up. You get my point.
From there, I think I love that movie. I wonder if it’s on Netflix. Next thing I know, I’m sitting in a tiny desk giggling to myself and other parents are staring.
And stuff like that is why I miss half of what they say during Back To School Night.
The truth is that you can’t do that. You can’t threaten every professional upon making their acquaintance because they are the ones you need to hand your kid to. There’s no point in making them hate you right from the start because, if they are crazy, your child is the one who will catch the brunt of it.
We’ve been lucky that we haven’t had any whackadoodles watching over our boy. His teachers, aides, therapists, and bus crews have all been amazing. I can say this with certainty because, as the father of a non-verbal child, I have done the one thing that is most important.
I have gotten to know them.
I am aware of Lucas’s team. I know what they are doing and why they are doing it. I make small talk at school functions, drop them texts and emails about what he is doing at home, and even ran into his bus driver at the supermarket once. We chatted in the frozen meat section and he told me how great Lucas had been doing with staying in his seat. It was a positive experience. It all has been.
If one of them wasn’t good, I’d be able to make the necessary changes. The only way to know that, though, is to know them. Being non-verbal might eliminate my son’s role in giving me peace of mind, but that doesn’t mean I have to live in the dark. It just means I have to do some of the work myself. It might take some extra time and effort, but considering I would do literally anything for him, it’s totally worth it. He’s totally worth it.