Yesterday, I received a phone call from the principal at my kids’ school. My son made a really bad choice at recess, and it landed him in heap of trouble. He regretted it, but it didn’t take it back, nonetheless. My first reaction was anger: How could he do that? The anger quickly turned into frustration, worry, and finally empathy.
“The kids call me weird.” “I don’t have any friends.” “Why don’t they like me?” “When will I make a friend at school?” “Being around the other kids can be so hard!”
Those phrases, that my son has said over and over the past two years, floated around in my head. I imagined my son, playing at recess, wanting to follow the rules of a schoolyard game. I imagined the unfair calls, his arguing with the boys, the possible look of glee on the other boys’ faces when they saw that they were a team against my son. I imagined the loneliness that my son felt in that moment when in the heat of passion he struck out against the boys, which is something he has NEVER done before. I imagined his immediate regret and the feeling of dread as he walked inside to face the consequences of his bad choice.
I am not condoning misbehavior, or saying my son was right at doing what he did. Scott and I like peace. We like calm. We like clear heads. However, in the middle of the busy playground, where McCartney was overwhelmed, I wanted to understand what would bring him to a place he has never gone before.
As the principal and I talked, I got emotional, I cried. I tried to explain my son and his history. I emphasized that this year has to be good, or our family is going to make some serious changes. I tried to make a professional understand my child and who he is. I also stated my concerns about his well-being and how he feels at school. At one point, she didn’t want to hear excuses. I didn’t care. “I am not making excuses for my child. I am explaining him to you and telling you things that I told the principal before. I am hoping you will hear me,” I replied.
Upon picking up my kids, I had a tough job on my shoulders: I had to discuss this with my son, trying to emphasize that we are not happy with him, while also making sure he understands that he is not alone. How does one support and discipline at the same time? It’s not as easy as it sounds. Oh, it doesn’t sound easy, well it’s even harder than it sounds too.
First, I hugged him and said, “We need to talk.” I asked for his side of the story. He told me, his head bowed. We discussed it and wrote out what else he could have done and how would those things change the outcome of his day? Second, I asked for his advice on how we should deal with this at home? He threw the book at himself and came up with consequences far worse than Scott or I would have decided. Finally, I hugged him again, and told him that I am worried. I also let him know that I am here for him, I understand, and I am going to do everything I can to help him. That’s when the tears fell down both of our cheeks and the emotions came out.
Of course, we had scheduled a community service project for an hour after school got out. People were counting on us, and we showed up. He served his community with a selfless heart and asked to do it again next week. He is not a bad person. He is smart and caring and compassionate, although he does not understand people the way other 7 year-olds do.
Later, Scott and I knew it was time. Time to tell him that he is NOT weird. Time to explain to him how amazing his brain is. We told him, “Did you know there are other people like you that have a hard time understanding social skills?”
“No one is like me,” he replied.
“Yes, there are people who have a hard time being with other people and knowing the right thing to say. They are called people with Asperger’s. You might have heart the word autism before. You have Asperger’s.”
“There’s a name for people like me?” For a second he smiled. It was time to tell him, that yes, there is a name and that name is NOT weird.