Different. I have a stepson who is different.
As a young child (well before I knew him), he was verbally delayed and had some motor issues. Now, as a nine-year-old, he is behind at school -- mostly because he is a different kind of learner, but also because his behavior and lack of typical social skills gets in the way of his success. I could write pages and pages about the tests and so-called "diagnoses" (from autism to anxiety -- but none of them really fit) the professionals have subjected him to. I won't, because I truly believe all the tests in the world won't help him.
What will help him is a teacher who cares, as well as parents (including me) who reinforce the academic and behavioral work the school is doing.
He starts at a new school today, and there is some real hope. I have not yet met the teacher, but I plan to. A teacher friend of mine told me, "A.J., you are a parent. The school and teacher don't care if you are a bioparent or a stepparent. You might not even want the title, but you are a parent." She's right - I am one of four responsible adults in my stepson's life and I can have a genuine impact on his life. I want the school and teacher to know who I am and to know that I care. (Whoa! Tears in my eyes as I type that.)
C., my husband, has met the regular classroom teacher, special ed director, principal and others at the school who seem to be on board with treating each child as an individual. What works for one won't necessarily work for another. They don't believe in forcing a square peg into a round hole. With the right support and encouragement, I believe my stepson can succeed. He is bright. He is special. He shouldn't be written off just because he is different.
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This weekend, C. and I watched the HBO movie "Temple Grandin." If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it.
Dr. Temple Grandin was diagnosed with autism in 1950. She didn't speak until she was four years old. "Professionals" told her mother she never would speak and that she should live in an institution.
Her mother refused to give up on her. She DID speak. She went to school. She learned. She loved science.
In high school, a science teacher became her mentor and she began to thrive. Someone believed in her and showed her that she could do it. She went on to college, earned a master's and eventually her Ph.D. in animal science. She now teaches at Colorado State University and lectures on autism.
She says she thinks in pictures -- and her autism is one of the reasons she is able to relate to and work with animals.
C. and I had tears streaming down our faces because it hit so close to home -- but also because it showed us so much hope.
The professionals can tell you, until they are blue in the face, to prepare for boarding school and group homes for a child, because he's different and won't be able to take care of himself later in life. They convince you - yes, even in this highly advanced age - that there is nothing to be done. Why? Because THEY don't know what to do.
Since I met my stepson, I have always believed that he would grow up, learn and succeed. I believe he can be self-sufficient. I believe he can have a career and be happy. I refuse to believe that we all should give up on him having dreams because he doesn't fit the norm.
I will post more on this later, I am sure. For now, I just want to put out into the universe my best wishes for my stepson, Jonah*. Today is a new beginning for him, and it is a day filled with much hope. Your daddy and I believe in you, kid.