Posted in Identity, Parenting, Teaching

What We Mean When We Say, “He’ll Grow Out of It,” at My School

In the Disabilities community, there’s a certain level of irritation with parents of Autistics and of parents of students with ADHD.

They blog everywhere, and they sound really ignorant a lot of the time, talking about their child’s struggles with such an intimacy, and dispensing a whole lot of unhelpful advice.  This crew often hates vaccines and gluten and thinks eradicating both would cure Autism.  They sometimes also insist they cured their kids’ ADHD or Autism by removing it or stopping vaccines or other nonsense.

All of this is nonsense, by the way.

So typically, we never, ever talk about “cure” about things like Autism and ADHD in particular because these neurotypical “cousins” (some of us have both) will continue into a person’s life forever.

But yesterday, I had a conversation with a teacher that only I could have.

She wondered whether we should talk to a third-grader’s mom about his need to move getting worse, despite having three recesses and frequent gym classes and sports after school.  She felt like she said his name so often, he might be scarred from it.

It’s winter.  It’s going to be worse.  It’s harder to run outside.

I said, “If you said his name forty times, and he only stopped at the fortieth, I can guarantee you he only heard you that one time.  You’re not going to ‘warp’ him.”

She paused and thought.  “You’re right,” she said.

In a traditional school, I would worry about what the other students would do, hearing this kid’s name said so often, but since we are a multi-age, one-room schoolhouse, they don’t think negatively of him and play with him anyway.  This is normal for him, and they’re glad to have him around.  They all know each kid in the class has his or her own “thing,” and they don’t judge since they know the other kids aren’t going around judging them for their “thing.”

This is why I advocate talking to kids about identities and how brains and/or bodies work, and paying attention to how you feel yourself so you can understand how blessed you are if you have, for example, inside you a brain that allows you to think mean thoughts, but then stops you before you do anything mean.  The more you can lay the groundwork for understanding that some challenges are invisible, the easier it is for kids to remain accepting even as they grow older.  Little kids, pre-schoolers and kindergarteners, report factual information a lot, as if it’s true, and there’s no meanness about it for them, but as kids get older, they often hide those thoughts so it’s important to keep explaining these things to them, so that they don’t let those mean thoughts fester.

As an example for the teacher, I talked about a fifth-grader who also had ADHD with hyperactive, and like this third-grader, it was the pure kind, not riding along with anything else like Autism.  I asked one of the fifth-graders if she remembered what this kid was like in third grade, when she happened into the office.  She said he was a lot like the third-grader.

My teacher has no real problems with the fifth-grader, though he doesn’t always think before he speaks.

I said, “This will pass.  He’ll get a little better at controlling his urges and channeling them in ways that don’t distract people, the older he gets.”  I suggested he walk up and down the stairs more or get another time to run around the gym and then come back to work. It’s a temporary fix, but I’ve found kids closer to 9 and 10 most receptive to learning new replacement skills that can be done inside the classroom.  That’s why fidget toys aren’t all that useful until they can understand how to use them so that they don’t distract others.

She smiled and nodded and headed back to class with the fifth-grader.

Have I told you how lucky I am to have this teacher?  She gets difference in a way that it’s SO rare to see.

The thing is, Autism or ADHD aren’t “grown out of,” no matter what you hear online.  We just get a little better as we get older at dealing with some challenges, assuming that we know we’re Autistic or have ADHD or what have you, and that our bodies and brains don’t behave exactly the same as everyone else’s, and that there’s nothing negative about how our brains and bodies operate.  So when I talk about “growing out of it,” I’m talking about maturity that comes as a child hits another developmental stage where he or she can control what’s happening a little better.  My own son used to need a medicine for a “stopper” so he’d stop to think and not run into traffic.  Now, he’s been off it for a while since he generally can stop and think if he’s not overwhelmed, and if he is overwhelmed, he just goes into his room on his own accord until it passes.  He knows what to do since we’ve been talking about it so much.  He doesn’t push himself past a certain point so we get fewer meltdowns from his Autism and less impulsive behavior from his ADHD.

But my son is still Autistic and he still has ADHD.  He’s just older.

So, yes, kids do grow out of some things, but never their conditions.  They grow out of specific behaviors because they can replace them with something else that works better for them and is also more socially acceptable.

Do know that nothing about this is automatic.  It takes parents and teachers working on helping to overtly teach new ways to cope (such as twiddling thumbs in Mass vs. dancing in the pew) to replace current strategies that will cause people who don’t understand them to judge them.

In the end, we live in a world with a lot of people who still believe we should beat our kids for ADHD or Autism and employers who would fire people for actions resulting from ADHD or Autism as well.  We also live with other Autistics and people with ADHD, who might find what we’re doing distracting them too much to work effectively.  When we’re in that world, we have to find ways to stim or move around so that we don’t distract other people, and they, in turn, work to not distract us so much.

But we do not ever grow out of our conditions in the way many of the “mommy bloggers” mean.

I know how hard it is to have a younger child with ADHD or an Autistic young person since you see all those kids sitting on the carpet and focusing on the teacher in pre-K at the ages of 3 and 4 (developmentally, you know, those kids who are pulling it off are acting against nature since they’re too young to be sitting around and focusing so much).  I know how hard it is to have your kid want to run so badly you’re panicking they’ll run into traffic.

I get that.

But THAT part will pass.  It will get better.  The more parents and teachers can work together to help teach new strategies, though, the easier it gets.

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