Have you ever really wondered how it might feel to be one of our neuro-divergent kids? The kids for whom the world just does not quite make sense and even if it did make sense, they would be unable to make sense of it? Sometimes working with these kids breaks my heart. Where do their futures lie? What are we doing in schools to help or hinder?
I had a little guy in Year 6, well not so little really, he was taller than me at about 175cm. But still little in my eyes. Young. A mere babe of a boy. He had been diagnosed with a myriad of behavioural and developmental disorders including the one that presented most, OCD. He would start our day by asking 15 to 20 times whether or not there was anything on his face. He would continue to ask at random times throughout the day regardless of time and space, most days heading closer to the 100 mark.
This was a little guy that you could see that, right off the bat, things for him were going to be more difficult. He was tall and lanky. Uncoordinated. Clearly there were a whole bunch of things going on. For the first week, month and term I would respond that no, there was nothing on his face and that he looked ready to learn. As time went on he continued to ask and I continued to answer. Eventually we made a deal that he could ask me once and I would answer once. It took us a year to get to this point but we did it.
This little guy was also on the spectrum, did not recognise social cues and had no friends that he could rely on for any help or support throughout the day. Think about that for a second. No friends. No-one to rely on. Alone. He could not read the room, he didn’t understand non-verbal cues, could be very violent and yet at the very core of his being was someone just trying to make it through each day unharmed. That was his primary goal, to remain unharmed. Who could function under this kind of stress?
Over the year we got into the habit of him walking next to me on the way to our classroom. He would whisper in my ear about what he had done the afternoon before and what he had spent his evening on. He would miss the mark some days and tell me how he had hit his sister. And he would laugh. And I would have to gently ask him how he thought she might have felt? He had no answer. At first. He would ask me about his face. And I would answer.
As we got closer to the end of the year he began asking about how he was going to make it in high school. Would the kids be nice? Would they be mean? Would the teachers take the time to let him whisper in their ear on the way to class? He wasn’t able to phrase any of his questions coherently but I knew where he was going. Would they send him home if he trashed the room or told the teacher to fuck off? We did eventually get past him telling me to fuck off but it took some time. We mostly got past him trashing the room, spitting food at people, pinching on the sly and kicking as well. Mostly. These, we both knew, were important and hard things that he couldn’t change and we knew they created problems. We knew that I could cope. We didn’t know if the high school teachers would. He was not an easy kid for me. He was not an easy kid for himself. There were some really tough days for me. They were everyday for him. Every. Single. Day. I hope he makes it with all of my heart.
So I wonder. I wonder what it must feel like to be under attack from all sides and to struggle with every person, every interaction, every moment. He never got a break. His anxiety was through the roof from the start to the end. From waking to sleeping. He is most certainly a neuro-divergent and the question really is, how do we as neuro-typicals create time and space for these little ones to whisper in our ear? Surely we need to be their person, their champion even though it is hard. It is hard for us. Imagine how it must feel to be them.