I have found in my journey as a mom, I have to listen to my son with more than just my ears. Listening takes practice and often time to step back and let the conversation marinate.
Because with some conversations you have to consider, history, context, emotional state, physical state (fatigue or frustration), and honestly – CAN I REALLY DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT?
Sometimes the conversation is venting. Or perhaps it’s misunderstanding what was intended in the moment.
True listening requires the Supermom “Fixit now” in me to a backseat.
And often as mom of a child diagnosed with autism — or what used to be referred to as Aspergers Syndrome — you always have to consider that some of the issues associated with this might be contributing to the situation. However, this can also be a disadvantage. Because what the child is dealing with may be age appropriate and just life. Aspergers may not be a part of this at all.
Listening wth more than ears is really about taking in the whole experience and just being there for another human being beyond — the mom role I have to fulfill on a regular basis.
This past month listening for me was a super challenging one.
Nicholas was having some serious issues after joining a transitioning classroom. One incident of many was when I had asked that my son stay for what is called Latch Key — an after school program that is supposed to help with homework and give them a chance to relax for a period of time so that a working parent could pick them up after school.
This program is a huge blessing. The one hour of help is golden.
However, Latch Key for the mainstream children is quite different than Latch Key for children with Special Needs, which is held in a separate annex to the main building. The first type of Latch Key is very strict. Everyone is asked to sit quietly, do their homework and children are’t permitted to use smart phones or iPads. In the second Latch Key – children are allowed to do homework, play with iPads, sit on the floor and assemble blocks or play with a friend quietly.
I did not know this. I imagine, Nicholas didn’t either.
Nicholas had for the most part a good day that day. But when he got to Mainstream Latch Key things went south. This I believe was his first time at mainstream Latch Key.
The teacher announced that everyone must be quiet, no talking and you must do your homework with no cell phones. Nicholas didn’t like this very much. He was — from what I was told — coloring and creating his own illustrated book. But telling him — he can’t talk — made him very unhappy.
To give you an idea of what I deal with daily — Nicholas rarely stops talking. He talks until usually he goes to sleep. Occasionally an iPad game will keep him occupied enough to keep his lips from moving, but usually not for long. He is constantly repeating information or shows he’s seen on television or creating his own narrative stories where he is the star. Nick is a jabber-mouth. And this order wasn’t stopping him from continuing his tirade of conversation.
Instead of complying for a few minutes, Nick objects by saying to his imaginary friend he often has full conversations with – “You don’t have to listen to her. We can talk.” This of course set off a very negative vibe in the room. A room full of students are now listening my kid tell them — not his imaginary friend — don’t listen to the teacher.
One of the teacher’s aides who knows my son well, started to pack up Nicholas’ stuff to take him out of the room. She knew what was happening. Nick was then upset that he was being moved. He started to resist. He ended up hitting and kicking and yelling saying he wasn’t leaving. He wanted to stay.
This ended with Nicholas being taken to the principal’s office by force and restrained with a hug.
After getting a full report on this via email, I was mortified. I was embarrassed. I was aggravated.
After sitting for a while in my decompression chamber — my car with the windows closed — I took a moment to close my eyes, meditate and relax.
I realized after reading about this in an email — the classroom environment was a set up for immediate failure. A kid who hasn’t been exposed to that kind of strict rule, suddenly expected to comply like all the other children who were used to these rules was a bit much. If perhaps someone had prepared him for this ahead of time, and slowly exposed him to this environment, the situation may not have escalated to this point. And the teachers who know my son, know Nick rarely stops talking. He talks to himself incessantly. Likely when he gets older, he may be able to finding a coping mechanism to compensate for times when he needs to be quiet. We usually use a distraction with video or audio using earphones at home. Or the failsafe is — go to sleep.
Nick and I discussed why he shouldn’t say what he said — even to his imaginary friend. He needs to listen to the teachers. He agreed he was wrong after a long conversation.
One thing however that made our conversation work was listening. I had to listen without worrying about my embarrassment and my aggravation at not being able to control the situation. This wasn’t about me. I had to divorce myself from my personal feelings and support the child. Yes — he was wrong. Yes, this deserved a conversation and consequences for inappropriate actions. But in this case, anything I did was after the fact. It would not change the past.
All I can hope for is my listening this time will produce a brighter future.