Yesterday morning was a particularly difficult school drop off. L was in meltdown mode prior to arriving at school which then began to set off O's anxiety. I left L screaming in his classroom and O was clinging to a fence as her class was doing some morning exercises.
It is incredibly difficult leaving my little superheroes at school when they are in that state not just because they were both in such a fragile emotional state. There is the horrible feeling that I get in the pit of my stomach seeing my children in that state and then there are the stares.
Stares from other parents, stares from other children. They are stares of wonderment as to why are those children crying. There are the stares of "control your children" and the stares of "oh so they're THAT sort of child, the disruptive one."
So here is an open letter to the Mama's (and Papa's) in the school yard.
Dear Mama's in the school yard.
I wanted to write this letter to you in the hope that it might assist you to understand a little more about my children and other children like them.
I'm writing on behalf of the parents of the child who may have a behavioural issue, the child that might be in your child's class. The child who, at times, may need a little more attention from the teacher and/or the teacher aide. The child who might be disruptive at times. The child who may or may not have a diagnosis, not that this should matter.
Yesterday morning you probably heard L coming before you saw him. L wasn't being naughty, he was in the final stages of a meltdown. A meltdown that started the night before at around 10pm over a little toy Batman. You see, L took it to school on Monday so that he could tell his classmates about himself. One of L's obsessions are superheroes, in particular Batman.
L left the Batman at school and on Monday night it was that Batman that he needed. The fact that he has several similar looking and similar sized other Batman toys meant nothing to him.
By the next morning he couldn't remember why he was upset, he just knew that something was bothering him.
Yes L was still dressed in his pajamas, I saw those looks of disbelief - who would send their child to school in pajamas? L was dressed, that was the main thing. I have to pick my battles, don't we all, otherwise the entire day would be one long argument.
Did you know that when L and O are in this state of distress I feel absolutely helpless?
I know that L and O will calm and settle, their teachers are very well versed in handling these situations. So the best thing that I can do for my children is to leave them screaming and walk away. I won't ever look back when they are in this state, as you will see the tears in my eyes, you will see the pain on my face.
Did you know that parents with special needs children have cried an ocean of tears over the state that their children can get themselves into, and that we all feel helpless when we leave them in the capable hands of their teachers at school?
L doesn't mean to be disruptive, his behaviour is not done on purpose. His behaviour is done for a purpose as in that moment he cannot find the words to verbally express himself. This does not excuse his behaviour and L is gradually learning the right way to behave through attending therapy sessions.
Parents of special needs children have been through more than you could ever imagine.
For some families it takes years of doctors and specialist appointments to get a diagnosis, for other families it may not take as long. But the process is the same. The process of obtaining a diagnosis is mentally, physically and emotionally draining. And then once you receive a diagnosis, you start on the next medical merry-go-round of being taught how to manage life with the diagnosis, more specialist appointments, funding appointments, therapy and the list goes on.
Did you know that children with special needs may have already faced more challenges than other children just to get to school? Many special needs children face more challenges in their first few years of life than many adults face in their entire adulthood. Special needs children are resilient. Special needs children are little warriors.
Beneath it all, parents of special needs children are still parents, just like you. We just want the best for our children. We want them to have fun interactions with others and make friends. We want them to succeed at school.
I could see and feel the disapproving looks and stares as I was walking to L's classroom and as I walked away on Monday morning. I've seen those disappoving looks before, at school, shopping centres, parks, playgrounds......
I know that you probably don't want your child interacting with my child because of his behaviour the other morning. But if you took the time to get to know L, you would see that he is a kind, loving playful boy.
A special needs child's diagnosis does not define them, the diagnosis is simply a part of them. I don't like saying L or O is autistic because they are much more than just their Autism.
You cannot catch a behavioural issue or Autism simply from associating with a child. L and O have in fact taught their friends a thing or two.
L has helped other children with their behavioural issues. L has assisted children to learn about empathy towards others. O has helped children to become more understanding and accepting of others, she has taught them empathy and compassion.
Parenting a special needs child can honestly leave you exhausted and wiped out the end of each and every day. If you take the time to get to know a special needs parent, they may share with you the struggles that they have gone through. This is not to gain sympathy, this is to try and spread a little more awareness of the struggles of a special needs family. They may open up to you that they may have needed to seek therapy and medication for themselves, just so that they could cope with the stresses of daily life.
What we all need as parents, are friends. People we can share our highs and lows with. People who will listen when we need a friendly ear to vent or talk to. Someone who will show us support when we really need it. Someone who will do this without any judgement.
Just a simple hello or a nod or a smile is enough to make someone feel better.
So the next time you see a child having a hard time, give their mum or dad a smile. A smile that says "you've got this, you're doing well, I'm not judging you or your child."
You just might make their day a little better.