It's no secret that our middle son Griffin has Asperger's, an Autism Spectrum Disorder. But we've never actually told him.
We've discussed it with family, friends, teachers, church volunteers, etc. We've even talked about it around the kids.
Several weeks ago the kids and I were in the car discussing Griffin's Monday afternoon swim group at Easter Seals, which is actually a social skills group that meets in the therapy pool. I was explaining to the kids why sometimes we see other kids doing individual therapy in the pool, and some of them yell out or display odd behaviors. We talked about how people can all be different, physically and mentally.
Last year Nolan had an autistic girl in his class. She had an aide who frequently pulled her out of class. In the several times that I visited Nolan's class, I observed this girl doing different activities from the rest of the students. I often secretly wondered what Nolan thought about this girl and what he understood about her autism.
Partway through the school year, Nolan began to mention her when he told me about his day. He couldn't understand why the other students just ignored her, and he told me he was her friend. Soon I heard stories of him walking through the lunch line with her, talking to her, and helping her. I was so incredibly proud of my son for the way he treated this girl whom the rest of the class ignored. I also felt that God was clearly preparing Nolan to grasp his own brother's autism.
So back to that day in the car a few weeks ago. I let on that Griffin's group was more than just a swimming group. I explained that it was to help Griffin and the other kids learn better social skills. The kids seemed to understand.
Then Nolan asked me, "Mom, is Griffin autistic?"
I froze. It seemed like the perfect time to tell all three kids. But Jared wasn't with us and I hadn't discussed any of this with Jared (telling the kids). I replied, "We'll talk more about that later."
Griffin chimed in with, "Mom, I don't mind if you talk about it."
Oh, how I wanted to take this perfect opportunity to finally tell the kids! I still felt odd about telling them without Jared, who was on a business trip at the time. So I put it off.
We worried about how Griffin would tolerate us moving. He had his rough moments, but he's doing well. We worry about how he will do in kindergarten, especially now that he'll be going to a new school rather than the one we've gone to every day for two years to take Nolan and pick him up.
Last spring I started working with our school district's Special Education Coordinator to prepare for Griffin entering kindergarten. She and I had several conversations, she reviewed Griffin's paperwork from Easter Seals, and she observed him at his preschool. The principal at our previous school called me to discuss Griffin and make sure we were all on the same page and ready for him to start school there.
Since we moved and the boys will be attending a new school, I called the new school to discuss Griffin. I didn't get much of a response and was told that nothing needed to be done before the school year in regards to Griffin. This mama disagreed.
So I called the Special Education Coordinator (who works with the entire school district not just our previous school) to try to get more help. She gave me more of the answers I was looking for. For example, she already has a meeting scheduled for tomorrow with the principal at the new school to discuss Griffin. She also said she would trust either kindergarten teacher at the new school to be able to work well with Griffin. And before I could even ask for it, she suggested that we schedule a time to bring Griffin into the school and show him around before the crazy chaotic Meet the Teacher night.
Last night I felt much calmer about the upcoming school year, but I also felt very aware of how much Griffin's autism might be discussed in front of him as we meet with his teacher, the principal, and the Special Education Coordinator. And I was reminded of how odd it seems that we've never told Griffin and his siblings that he's autistic.
Our dinner last night was rushed and crazy as I was on the phone while preparing it and had to rush off to a church meeting as soon as I swallowed my last bite. Yet I felt that it was time to use our dinnertime as a family meeting to discuss Griffin's diagnosis with the kids. I knew it wouldn't be as big of a deal to them as it is to us, so there was no need to set up some special time to discuss it. This was as good a time as any.
I cleared it with Jared just before we started eating, and he was on board. So last night during dinner, we told the kids that Griffin has a form of autism.
They seemed to understand, especially since our previous conversation had laid the groundwork for this one. We found it easier to explain what "autism" and "autistic" mean and how autism affects Griffin. When we did finally explain "Asperger's," the kids mostly just giggled at the name. One of the boys said through laughs, "Mom, that sounds like hamburgers!"
As I suspected, the kids had no questions and quickly lost interest in the conversation. I had to remind myself that it's just not a big deal to them, and I really just wanted to open up the communication with them on this topic.
Griffin did grin from ear to ear when I told him that his autism also affects him in positive ways, like how he started reading super early and can do crazy math. He looked so proud.
Then as I kept talking, thinking I had gained ground explaining all this to him, he interrupted me to say, "Mom, 20 times 20 is 400." Yep, it is Babe. Good talking to you.
So, the whole conversation was fairly anticlimactic. I might as well have been telling the kids that Griffin has brown eyes. But now I don't have to worry about the kids overhearing us talking about Griffin's autism, and they know they can ask us questions about it.
We're making progress!
Now if I could just make peace with my second child going to kindergarten...