Atti started 3rd Grade last week. It’s a big jump into big kid territory, and he has to do it with a new teacher for the first time since Kindergarten. A new teacher who doesn’t know him and all the sensory things that poke his brain, who won’t understand that there is a powerful brain inside that uncompliant body, who might not share his goals and belief in his abilities. He has to start from scratch with getting someone to see him. And it’s scary.
We spent time talking about the changes that a new teacher might bring and we talked about ways we could help her understand. We thought up ways for him to be brave and perform for the teacher until she saw his smarts for herself. I sent her video clips of Atticus, I wrote a big email explaining Atti’s behaviors and goals and how ready we were to contribute. I read that email to Atti and he bounced on my lap and strangle hugged me, but until he got into the classroom, nothing was going to be settled for him. He was still terrified he was going to get another teacher who refused to teach him, or a professional who would once again tell him he was too intellectually disabled to learn.
The more I learn to speak Atti’s language, the more I appreciate in new and profound ways how the discrimination he experiences keeps him from progressing. Ableism is disabling. When you have trained experts telling you things about yourself, how are you not supposed to believe them? I struggle with this as a grown ass woman, how is a small boy supposed to dismiss the ignorance he faces every day? I’ve learned that my role as his mother is not just to drill therapy into him and expect that to get him to the peak of his abilities, it’s to help him see his abilities for himself and help him believe he can get there.
Atti asked me to drive him to school for his first day. We rolled into the classroom and Atti asked me to stay. I took a seat in the back of the classroom to let his teachers do their jobs and they reliably rallied around him to make him feel welcome and cared for. Ms. Baker had been waiting for him and came armed with Beatles music she put on just for him. They started by discussing the days of the week and Atti answered every question first until Ms. Baker brought the month flashcards over and he read every one to her. Despite his anxiety, despite how hard it is for him to perform, and how much work it takes to get the words out, he was going to show her what he could do.
It was time for me to go so I went to tell him and as soon as he saw my face he busted out “I love my school!”
It’s so hard when the resources are so limited. When the teachers have so much they are responsible for and so little reward. I’ve had many professionals suggest that I homeschool Atti to give him one on one attention. They’re not wrong, if I were a homeschool mom and taught him myself one on one he probably would be performing better according to one set of measurements. Unfortunately, I am not a homeschool mom and I know that that road would lead to sacrifices that would not be for either of our optimal health. And I have a considerable amount of working mom/disabled mom angst around that. But then I think about how much more there is to learn than addition and the alphabet.
This world is brutal for people with disabilities. I know that for myself. But my disability is invisible and when I can move through the world, I don’t have the additional barriers that Atti does. Curbs and broken sidewalks and stairs don’t tell me every day that I am not welcome in society. People don’t stare and point at me whenever I leave the house. I have never had a teacher tell me that they wouldn’t teach me because they couldn’t understand how I was expressing myself. These are experiences I would give anything to take away from my son, but I can’t. The best I can do is teach him how to operate in it. I can teach him to prepare himself for reactions. I can teach him to perform to his best ability until people cannot deny what he’s capable of. And I can teach him to be brave, give people a chance, and recognize that someone who plays you Beatles music is worth knowing.