To the parents of my struggling son’s classmates:
By this point in the school year, I’m sure your child has shared an “interesting” story about something strange, inappropriate, or distracting my son did in class. Maybe you’re part of the PTA or a volunteer in our kids’ classroom–if so, you’ve probably witnessed some of these behaviors yourself. I understand that an outsider may see or hear about these things and assume that my son is defiant, hyperactive, out of control, or that we (as his parents) are not strict enough. I understand why you may encourage your child to play with someone else at recess or sit with someone else at lunch. I understand why he may not be invited to your child’s birthday party. But can I offer you another perspective?
My son has an invisible disability. On the outside, he looks like a perfectly normal child, and in a lot of ways, he is normal: Like many boys his age, he enjoys playing outside, building with Legos, playing with cars and trucks, and chasing girls. But he is different than most children. Without sharing too much of his story (I’ll leave that up to him), please know that my son’s early life was steeped in trauma. He moved in with my husband and me when he was four years old, and we’ve done our best to love him, support him, teach him, and undo some of the trauma he was exposed to so early and for so many years. But what we cannot control is the fact that this trauma has changed his brain; it’s stunted his emotional development. We’ve worked with therapists, pediatricians, psychiatrists, caseworkers, Occupational Therapists, behavioral specialists, and teachers, and while it may not seem like it–our son has come leaps and bounds in working through his trauma and controlling his behavior. But, obviously, he still struggles. Old trauma often manifests itself with interesting, inappropriate, and defiant behaviors; because his brain is underdeveloped and damaged, he often cannot control these behaviors.
So when your child tells you about my son’s interesting behaviors, would you engage in an age-appropriate conversation about this? Your child and mine don’t need to be best friends. They don’t need to play together every recess or sit together every day at lunch. He doesn’t need to be invited to your kid’s birthday party. And, it would even be appropriate for your child to distance him/herself from my son during his outbursts and episodes. However, could you think about your child playing alone at recess day after day? Could you think of how your child might feel about him/herself if every day he/she took multiple trips to the principal’s office? I hope this thought moves you to explain to your child that sometimes kids can’t control their behaviors. I hope it encourages you to talk to your child about being friendly, even to those who are different.
You know that old adage, It takes a village to raise our children? I know it’s a cliche saying that is sometimes an impossibility, but still…I’m asking for your help in this…for your help with my son. Because honestly, I’m not sure how much longer he can play alone at recess without it deteriorating his sense of self. My greatest fear as his parent is that he will believe a lie that he is unworthy of love and friendship, that he will reach a point of hopelessness from which he cannot recover. No parents wants this for his/her child.