So today, I had lunch with Tyler and his class and had the opportunity to educate about 15 kids about autism. I think 5-7 year olds are awesome. They are still open-minded and ask GREAT questions. They didn't care that Derek was different. They just wanted to know HOW he was different and WHY.
The kids got their first glimpse at Derek's differences during lunch. Derek refused to sit down at the lunch table. Instead he kind of spun in circles near the table, flying his two matching airplanes. Then, when he saw some of the things the other kids were eating, he said (more than once) "EEEEWWWW." A couple kids asked me why he said ew to grilled cheese and yogurt and grapes and I told them that Derek doesn't like to eat the same things that we do. We left the cafeteria a little early and went back to the classroom, because the more people that arrived in the cafeteria, the more frazzled Derek became. So we retreated...
The Q and A went great. These were my questions:
What does Derek like to do or play with? He likes matching things--he has to have two of something at all times, like the two airplanes in his hands, or the two fish he brought. He also likes to spin things (Derek chose that moment to start spinning me in the swivel chair!!!) He likes anything that spins, like cars, Merry-go-rounds, sprinklers, anything with wheels...his fascination at the moment is trains.
What does Derek eat? Mostly crunchy, dry foods like dry cereal, crackers, pretzels, and chips. He has texture issues and won't eat bananas, yogurt, noodles, or anything wet. Not even pizza or cheeseburgers. (The kids freaked out at that!) That's why he said "EWWW!" at lunch today.
What is his favorite musical instrument? He likes to bang on piano keys! He loves music.
Is autism a disease? No, it's a neurological disorder. It's not contagious. You can't catch it. It means that there is something different in Derek's brain. He looks at the world a little bit differently than you do.
Can he say "Hello?" No, he has trouble saying certain consonants. "L's" and "r's" and other sounds are hard for him to say. But he can say hi and wave. Derek, say "hi." "HI!" (Derek said it, but didn't face the crowd, so I went on to explain that he has trouble making eye contact sometimes--especially with strangers.)
Does he play with other kids? Does he play with Tyler? Not really. He has trouble in crowds and doesn't really know how to play with other kids. He doesn't know how to share. Tyler tries to play with him. He's a really good big brother.
We also discussed the fact that Derek doesn't LOOK any different and that we shouldn't treat him any different...
I was incredibly proud of the way Tyler handled everything. He helped me answer questions when he could, gave Derek a huge hug (even though Derek grimaced and didn't hug back) and said, "I just love my brother Derek." It brought tears to my eyes. He wanted the class to know about Derek. He was excited that we had come. I don't know how many years that will last. I wonder when Tyler will start to be embarassed that Derek is different. I don't like to think about that day. I hope it never comes. I hope that by educating his peers and by talking to Tyler about equality, race, disabilities, and diversity, that I am making a difference in one life at least. I want to ensure that my son, this beautiful child who hugs his brother in front of his friends, will grow up to be the kind, compassionate young man he is capable of becoming...
|Tyler in the lunch line|
|Derek watching the lunch line...he was a little bit baffled by the process.|
|Lunch with my favorite 6 year old.|
|Derek fascinated by the car rug on the floor of the kindergarten class. "Ding ding ding!"|
|Talking to the class|
|Uh-oh. Derek discovered that the chair I'm sitting in is a SWIVEL CHAIR|
|And he has decided to start spinning me. Perfect.|
|Sitting in my lap, doing surprisingly well.|
|Tyler surprised me and gave me a hug.|
|Then he sat in my lap. WHAT????|
|We didn't stay long...|