It’s an eerie feeling living something you know you will never forget.
Last Friday was one of those days for us. We spent much of the day at Carson’s school, Ocean City Elementary, for American Education Week, taking part in a gingerbread house session in his classroom in the morning and then the first term awards assembly in the afternoon.
As soon as we got to school and in his classroom, Carson didn’t want to come into the room. This surprise hesitancy sums up Carson. It took about five minutes of constant encouragement for him to join us in the room. It might not have made sense to us, but in his mind, which is wired differently than “typical” kids, he was intimidated. Rather than focus on the why parents in his classroom would cause anxiety, we have learned we need to instead imagine how he must be feeling and find the words and body language to bring peace. Once he got into the classroom, he got to work on building his gingerbread house, thanks in large to his crafty mom.
Later in the day Carson was to be recognized along with many other peers for making the Honor Roll and as a VIP (Very Improved Pupil) during his first term of fourth grade. Though we were excited for the recognitions, Pam and I were concerned how he would handle going up on stage in front of a couple hundred people. We didn’t even know if we would make it to the stage. The apprehension earlier in the day over a handful of parents in his classroom heightened those worries.
When his named was called for the Honor Roll, Carson immediately latched on to his educational assistant, Mr. Wolf, who walked him to the stage and stood by him as Carson stood on the stage by himself. Two years ago, when he got this honor, he was too nervous to go on stage and stood by it. On this day, he went up on stage, but didn’t stand by his peers. He stood off to the side by himself next to the Maryland flag pole.
It’s funny how the autistic mind works. He never wants to be the center of attention and simply desires to blend in. We learned this on his first, second and third birthdays when he cried hysterically when everyone sang happy birthday to him. As he’s gotten older, his fear of being in the spotlight has continued.
On this day, rather than stand with his peers, he stood off by himself. If his goal was to not draw attention to himself, it was not accomplished. It was perfectly fine by us, but it was tough for Pam and me not to giggle a little about the irony and absurdity of it all. There he was on stage with a dozen kids and way off to the side all by himself, rather than simply standing with his schoolmates.
Later in the assembly, he was recognized with the VIP certificate. He was nominated by his teachers Ms. Macrides and Dr. Biscoe as well as Mr. Wolf. Thankfully, we were able to get a print out of the nomination that was read off as Carson was called to the stage. I was too focused on watching him come to the stage and assume his spot by the flagpole. Part of the nomination read, “Carson has shown amazing progress this year … He has been working hard to take responsibility for his materials, transition from task to task smoothly and become more independent as a student day. … We are all so proud of your increased confidence and positive attitude toward learning, Carson!”
While on stage this time, Carson got a little antsy and embarrassed. He was fiddling with the Maryland flag and wrapping himself up in it. Once all the names were read, on his way off stage he pushed the flag pole over. This was fitting and not entirely unexpected. It didn’t bother us. We know how difficult it is for him to stand in front of a lot of people. We think he did great. This trepidation most likely kept the emotions in check quite honestly.
In a Facebook post this week, Pam included some pictures from the ceremony and wrote, “This guy…our guy. Our guy that was told ‘he has no receptive language and will never understand verbal communication,’ ‘he will never talk,’ ‘He should be in a deaf school and you should move your family near one.’ From the genetic specialist, ‘dup 7q11.23 (his genetic disorder) is so rare, we know nothing about it, try to find a FB page.’ Well this special, rare, shy human received a VIP award and an honor roll certification at Ocean City Elementary School. Did he cover his ears when they clapped? Yes. Did he wrap himself up in the flag so no one would notice him? Yep. Could we be more proud? Nope! Never underestimate!”
A friend, who was in attendance, replied to the post, “He was awesome! He lifted and inspired an entire school full of people! Of ALL ages!!! What an incredible talent and gift!”
With Carson, continual progress is the goal. Seeing him function well and improve are what’s important. If he can excel, that’s a bonus. We just want him to live his best life. What that looks like will evolve over time. In the meantime, comments like this from friends confirm the impact he has on people without saying a word. As a 10-year-old boy, he’s changing people’s impressions of what it means to have special needs. It’s truly inspiring.