Blogger Bunmi Laditan sent her 10-year-old’s school a clear message.
“Hello Maya’s teachers,
Maya will be drastically reducing the amount of homework she does this year. She’s been very stressed and is starting to have physical symptoms such as chest pain and waking up at 4 a.m. worrying about her school workload.
She’s not behind academically and very much enjoys school. We consulted with a tutor and a therapist suggested we lighten her workload. Doing 2-3 hours of homework after getting home at 4:30 is leaving little time for her to just be a child and enjoy family time and we’d like to avoid her sinking into a depression over this.”
Dear parent afraid of getting the assessment: Nothing bad has ever come from a diagnosis. A diagnosis just means you can seek treatment. No one says discovering cancer early is bad. Early intervention saves lives. It’s the same for autism. Get the assessment.
Dear parent mourning their child’s diagnosis: Realize nothing has changed. Your child is the same as they were yesterday and all of the days before that. They’re the same kid that they have always been, that you have always loved. Now you’ve got answers. It’s a way forward.
Dear parent in denial about their child’s autism: It does neither of you any favors to pretend their autism doesn’t exist. Denying your child’s autism only hurts them and disconnects them from a community of peers who can help them find themselves and thrive.
Dear parent of an autistic child: Do not fear what it means for them now. They would have faced the same challenges with or without a label for it. They were autistic before their evaluation, now you just have a name for it and a access to resources.
My kid in bed with us- trying to avoid sleep: Dad, what are teeth made of?
Son: okay, tell me about it.
I’m done. He’s trying to trick us by asking intriguing questions that we love him asking, because we like explaining how different things work and my husband is basically google. But damn kid! He got us good because it’s now 15 minutes past bedtime and we’re sitting here talking about the periodic table and carbon.
This month, my kid turned four. Today, he went to his first full day of childcare/preschool, and had a wonderful time - he’s still working on learning to share, but he was excited when we dropped him off and excited when we picked him up, and apparently made such good friends with another boy that the teacher assumed they already knew each other, so I’m calling it a win. Tonight at dinner, while I talked him through eating his fish, he gave me a thumbs up to show he understood, and when I returned it, he grinned and held up his hand for a high five. I gave him one, and he exclaimed, “Yay teamwork!”
“That’s a new one,” my husband said. “I wonder where he got that from?”
“No idea,” I said. “But it’s pretty cute.”
Years ago now, I was at a fairly dreadful academic dinner where I ended up being seated across from a woman I’d never met before, whose son had just started primary school. In the course of our conversation, I made what felt to me a fairly benign - not to say obvious - remark about how starting school means getting a life outside your parents; how, for the first time, they’re put in the position of having to ask you how your day was, instead of having been there for all of it or able to ask another adult for a summary, and how it’s the point where you really start to develop your own independence and private inner life. The woman went ramrod-straight and said, affronted and defensive, “My son tells me everything. I know everything about him.”
At the time, it was one small uncomfortable moment in what went on to be a grossly uncomfortable evening for a variety of reasons (but that’s a different story). But it came back to me today when I realised that, even though my kid has technically just reached that point, in a way, he’s already been making progress towards it - not physically, in terms of being out of my sight for hours at a time, but narratively, in terms of the stories he consumes. For a while now, he’s had a hand-me-down iPad with Netflix on it (set to the kids section, obviously), which means he’s been able to choose the shows he watches without reference to our immediate judgement. And he has always, since he first figured out how to operate a touchscreen, demonstrated the ability to learn from what he watches without our direct guidance.
When he first started identifying numbers and shapes, my husband and I were startled, because we’d started by teaching him letters - then we saw he’d fallen in love with an educational kids’ show called Team Umizoomi, which focused exclusively on shapes and numbers. I watched a few episodes with him so I could talk to him about the characters, and quickly realised he was incorporating their names into his play and trying to narrate their adventures to me when he told me about his day. Since then, I’ve always tried to pay attention to what he watches and to discuss it with him: it helps that I have a good memory for character names and theme songs, so that even if I only catch a few minutes here or there, I can usually tell what he’s talking about or figure out how to ask for clarification.
One of his favourite shows is Daniel Tiger’s Neighbourhood, a cartoon continuation of the legacy of Mr Rogers. The first time I saw it, my adult cynicism had me rolling my eyes, but I cut that right the fuck out the first time my kid started singing the songs he’d learned from it and applying them in (roughly) the right emotional context. There’s a song on the show which has a verse that says “I like you / I like you / just the way you are,” but in my son’s rendition, it becomes, “Love you / for everything you do.” He sings it now as a call and answer: he sings it to me or his dad when he’s happy, and we sing it back to him. Recently he learned a new one about “when something goes bad / turn it around / and find something good,” and sings it whenever he thinks one of us is getting sad or upset - and it works, not least because it’s really goddamn adorable.
So when he did the “Yay teamwork!” high five at dinner tonight, I realised I didn’t know if it was something he’d picked up from school or from a new TV show, and realised also that it didn’t really matter. It’s strange to think of him spending multiple full days a week with other people, but it’s also really exciting: not just to see how his independence develops (and to hope he gets better at sharing - the consequence of being an only child with few small friends is that he’s never really had to play cooperatively if he doesn’t want to), but because it means now that we get to hear about what he’s been doing in his own words. It means we can ask him questions about his day to which we don’t already know the answer, and invariably there’s going to come a point where he keeps more back than he tells us, because part of growing up is developing your own sense of emotional privacy, but as a writer, the significance of the fact that his first steps into independence were facilitated through narrative isn’t lost on me. Which is why stories matter; why they’ve always mattered. And why being parent - for all that it’s hella confusing and stressful a lot of the time - can also be really weirdly satisfying.