Monday, March 14, 2011

Basic Humanity 101

This weekend we celebrated Dude's 11th birthday and just like every parent, I became a little reflective, a little nostalgic as I reflected back over the last 11 years of my life.

I thought about my pregnancy, our decision to move back to our hometown so our baby would know his grandparents. I thought about those long sleepless nights of infancy, the excitement over each milestone he reached and our 'new parent' neurosis about nearly every aspect of his babyhood. I remembered his 'sous' and his funny little baby comb over. I laughed about his funny habits and quirky personality.

Eleven years of ups and downs, just like every other parent but we also had a few challenges that most parents don't have to face. School meetings, clinical assessments, trips to the child psychologist, child psychiatrist, anxiety clinic and Autism specialist and countless emails, phone calls and notes from the school's list of '-ists' involved with Dude.

I clearly remember the first information I read about Aspergers after Dude was diagnosed. I remember reading that people on The Spectrum often lack empathy, social understanding and compassion. In fact, that article stated that although these children can be taught habits that may help them fit into society most of them will never grasp the intricacies of true relationship. I remember thinking, "Great, my kid is doomed to grow up like some kind of cyborg!"

But, of course, that wasn't the case.

It took, and still takes, a lot of explaining but Dude understands and displays empathy. He is very thoughtful and compassionate and he understands that how you behave directly impacts how another person can feel about you and themselves. He knows that in order to have friends you must be considerate, kind and respectful. He knows this because we are teaching him, just as we are teaching Crafty and Mischief.

The crazy thing is, that after all the time I have spent in schools over the past several years, I think these lessons are missing from many families. Its not that parents don't care, its just that between the homework and the music lessons and the sports practices parents forget that kids don't know what they have never been taught. They don't naturally know to be respectful of the people around them, they don't realize that their words have a lasting impact on others. They don't know these things because kids are, by nature, pretty self absorbed creatures.

Recently I realised that I was not doing as good of a job of communicating this message to the kids as I thought. Mischief had landed himself in a bit of hot water at school. He was making some bad choices about who he was sitting with and how he was behaving and as I was lecturing him about making better choices he asked, "What are my choices?" At first I thought he was being a smarty pants but when I looked at the kid confusion mixed with an earnest interest in what I was saying was all over his face. He really didn't know.

He didn't know because I had not ever explained it clearly to him. I had told him he needed to behave, be respectful and obedient but I don't think I had ever really explained to him what that looks like. I assumed that he understood what the practical application of the words were. Crazy, huh?

Sometimes, as parents and adults, we forget that kids have little, empty minds and that it is our job to fill them up with the things we feel are important for them to know to become good human beings. We have to think of this part of parenting like we are teaching a course, Basic Humanity 101. We have to talk about how to be a respectful, what it looks like to be obedient and give them examples or role play scenarios for them to practice being a good friend. They need hands on tactical training on how to be a human being because being kind, generous and forgiving doesn't come naturally ... to any of us. We all had to be taught these things and we all have to continually practice being the person we want to be.

If Dude, a kid on The Spectrum, who was never supposed to understand these 'intracasies of human relationship' can learn how to be a good friend then any child, given time and proper explanation, can learn, too.

If each man or woman could understand that every other human life is as full of sorrows, or joys, or base temptations, of heartaches and of remorse as his own . . . how much kinder, how much gentler he would be.

~ William Allen White

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