Last week I visited Hope’s kindergarten class to read stories and do a craft. (I’m still laughing at myself, that *I* went to school to do a *craft*. I brought Magic Noodles and basically said, “Ok kids… make something.”)
One of the stories I read was the one about Hope and Rhema and high-fives from the Chicken Soup book, Raising Kids on the Spectrum. Before reading it, I provided a little background.
I asked the class if they knew anything about autism, and a girl offered this explanation:
“If you have autism… you kind of do things… wrong.”
Her words took me back to an incident several months ago.
Because of the girls’ schedules, I always have to drop Hope off at school first. This has not always been easy for Rhema. She used to bolt into Hope’s classroom, grab paper and markers and color vigorously. Hope’s teacher, always so kind and accommodating, would even set out scratch paper for Rhema to use. And Rhema would color (on the paper and the tables) while I helped Hope hang up her coat and lunch and get out her school materials. The problem was she never wanted to stop coloring and leave.
One particularly off morning, I used my best therapist voice and told her she could color for one more minute and then it was time to be all done. Hope and her classmates were already seated and ready to begin their day. After a minute passed I cheerily said, “All done, Rhema. Let’s clean up.” I moved to help her put away the crayons and markers.
She screamed and grabbed me by the collar.
“Rhema,” I said calmly. “It’s time to go. Let’s be all done.”
She let go of my collar, grabbed another’s student’s project and started scribbling on it.
“No, Rhema. That’s not yours. We are all done coloring.”
She grabbed me by the hair and screamed again. The more I tried to talk to her the more resistant and angry she became. Hope tried to help, but Rhema escalated quickly and any control I thought I had slipped away. As she screamed, many of Hope’s classmates covered their ears. One girl looked like she was about to cry and said she wanted her Mommy. I was about to cry and wanted my Mommy.
I ended up leaving an agitated Rhema in the classroom while I ran to get my phone out of the car. Eventually I was able to distract her from the coloring with my phone and walk her outside. It was not a happy scene.
“Sometimes kids with autism do things differently. But it’s not wrong.” I told the class last week.
As I learn more about the people in my life with autism I continue to be amazed by their “different”. How creative, resourceful, and brilliant they are, how blessed we are to learn from them.
“Can you imagine needing and wanting to say something but you cannot? Can you imagine how frustrating and challenging that could be?”
I really had not come to talk about autism. I’d come to read bug stories and hand out gummy worms. But I hoped they’d remember, that what I had said had made a difference.
“You know, Hope’s sister has autism. Did you know that they have never fought? They have never said an unkind word to each other, not one. When Hope is sad, Rhema is sad. And when Rhema is sad, sometimes the only one who can cheer her is Hope. They have a really, really special relationship. I’m their Mommy and even I am amazed by it.”
I looked at Hope sitting next to me in the circle. She smiled shyly, but oh my goodness, she shined. Love and joy radiated from her whole body.]
The next day the kids were on the playground when Rhema, Hope and I arrived. A girl from Hope’s class ran over to us.
“Hi Rhema!” she said.
My heart swelled, and we grinned big.
When Rhema didn’t make a sound or look at her, the girl asked me if she could hear.
“Yes, she can. She hears you loud and clear. Thank you so much for saying hi.”