Wednesday, September 17, 2008

"Am I stupid?"

We hear this question often during the school year that we pause and wonder if we are subjecting Tristan to some-sort of school torture. Last year in kindergarten Tristan came home saying that a child on the playground called him stupid and Peter and I thought 'OK, this is kindergarten, how much longer can Tristan endure school?'

Tristan seems oblivious to the "stupid remarks" until bedtime when either Peter or I snuggle in for a good book and loving and then like a wave crashing on the beach, Tristan says "Am I really stupid?" My heart splits in two and 99% of me wants to say "OK, no more school, that's it." But instead I ask Tristan if thinks he is stupid and we talk about learning differences and we hug and I suggest ways he could advocate for himself. We lay in bed practicing and role playing what to do if a kid calls him stupid.

The next day I talk to his teacher before class and at morning meeting the kids role play and discuss hurting each other through words. Still I feel unsettled, so unsettled even I stopped referring to Thor, our less than intelligent dog, "stupid" when he runs into the neighbor's yard (the one that has threaten to kill him) or pulls our organic, local (expensive) chicken off the counter and eats it.

Now it has been three weeks into our new school year and last night as I nursed our youngest to sleep, I heard Peter saying, "Tristan, you know you are not stupid, right?"

Nothing silence.
Then Peter said, "Is mommy stupid?"
Tristan replied "No."
"Is daddy stupid?" Peter asked.
"No." Tristan replied.
"Well we don't make stupid kids, so you are not stupid." Peter encouraged.

As I lay in bed with Liam cuddled next to me and Thor at my feet, I recall a conversation I had with a colleague and friend after the first time Tristan came home from school telling me that all his friends think he is stupid. I told this friend that Peter and I discussed home-schooling Tristan to shelter him from the years of harassment and his response was "well, then how are they (non-autistics) going get to know us and live with us." My friend and colleague grew-up with autism and managed his way through school with the same remarks and now he is the director of the self-advocacy organization in our county.

So, for now we remind Tristan of his strengths like an ease with math and computers and we hold on for the ride and remind ourselves we are practicing for adulthood where the kids that call him stupid now grow-up and have to live in a community of differences.

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