The other day I had a conversation that was shocking and upsetting. Someone wanted to express concerns to me about my child.
"Hey, I've been wondering," the person said to me, "Did you ummm, you know, get all the tests done for Patience? Did you find out anything?"
"Tests?" I asked in confusion, thinking hard, "Oh, oh right, the hearing test. Yeah, yeah we saw the audiologist at the ENT and everything was fine."
"That's good news," the other person said, "But, actually, I was talking about The Tests."
I thought harder, and was silent for a minute.
"I'm sorry," I said, "I'm not sure what you mean."
"The symptoms," she said insistently, "The ones you were so worried about. So you were taking Patience to get evaluated."
"Ohhhh," I said, "The strephosymbolia! Well, yeah we did get her checked, but it's so inconclusive at this age. Anyway, they did say she wasn't distinguishing frontwards from backwards, so they gave us exercises. We've been doing them and it's great...she's fine, knows front from back now, so it's worked out really well. The good news is we did this now, so she should be all set for kindergarten."
"No," she said impatiently, "Not that." She dropped her voice, "The autism. All of Patience's behavior and problems...the ones that are symptoms of autism. You were so worried, you were planning to take her and get her evaluated. We talked about it, I thought it was a good idea."
You could have knocked me over with a feather I was that shocked.
Patience doesn't have any symptoms of autism. I've never worried about her and autism. I've never told anybody I was going to get her evaluated for it, because there is no point. It's simply never come up before this. Not one other person who knows Patience has ever even wondered.
Now you've heard me talk about Patience, child of my heart, child of my frustration...apple who does not fall far from the tree, but who does her level best to escape its boundaries as often as possible. My clever, creative scientist who can out-think me with one brain lobe tied behind her back.
I've mentioned her slightly persnickety personality: her solid personal boundaries, her slow-to-warmness, her distant and quiet act around some people. How in some ways, she's like a cat: best to not approach too quickly or loudly, but if you sit back and are calm and patient, she'll come to you and what a wonderful thing that is.
But I've never said Patience and autism in any way that links the two.
This is because I do not have this concern. And never have.
That's why I was so surprised during this conversation.
"Uhhh whuuuuuuu???" I squeaked.
The other person was certain I had expressed concern, and had said I was getting her evaluated this past spring.
"Ummmm....noooo," I said, then, more definitely, "No, she hasn't got anything that makes me, or anyone, think autism."
The person was positive I had been concerned about her behavior, her symptoms, all of which screamed autism, this person said.
I felt a weird sense of surreality. Was this a backwards approach of this person trying to tell me that she had concerns?
"No," I said, quite emphatically, "You are mistaken. You must be thinking of someone else. There's absolutely no reason to think she has any form of autism, I've never worried about it, and there was not and is not any need to evaluate it."
The person would not back down. The person was quite definite.
"I probably did talk about autism a lot this past spring," I conceded, "But not about my family, my kids. I was editing a book about autism, publishing it, getting it ready for market. It's a great book, for kids about kids with autism. I probably did talk about that a lot because I think it's a great book. And I might have mentioned that the author has a son who is PDD-NOS, and that the reviewer's son is autistic too, might have mentioned that we had children test this book, some of whom were autistic. But any talk...it was all about the book."
The other person simply said hmm, in a way that clearly communicated disbelief, among other things.
I don't have a problem with autism. I've met a number of kids on the spectrum and through that, and my research, I learned a lot, corrected a lot of mistaken ideas I held. I've gained a tremendous respect for these kids and their parents. I've learned about real symptoms of it, and real potential for kids who have it. I'm no expert, but I'm no ignoramous, either.
All that said, I hope you can understand how bewildered I was that this person had decided that some of my daughter's quirks and characteristics could be twisted around to fit an autism diagnosis. And that I was simply in denial about it.
I imagine somewhere, at heart, it came from a caring place, this concern. But it was erroneous and unsolicited input, and once I had clarified, she should have apologized and backed down.
But it got me thinking. I have always maintained that parents ought to be open to hearing what others might feel compelled to express---from a concerned and loving place---about their child, especially if it has to do with the best interests of the child.
In this case---the first time it happened to me---though, I was not open; I was confused, annoyed, even a little angry and offended. I refused to even pause and ponder---which truthfully, in this case, I don't need to---but it did immediately negate my assumptive philosophy that I---and all parents---ought to be willing to listen.
It's hard to talk to parents about their kids when it comes to worries. I know. I've been on the other side of the fence and it's cost me a friendship. In that case, it began with the school and involved one child bullying Patience, which created an enormous amount of emotional havoc for everyone. Initially, the teacher tried to handle it on her own in the classroom. She alerted me and the school director that there was an issue, and we agreed that her Plan A was good. Still, it failed, as did Plans B, C, D, E, and F. The only solution is to keep the two children separate.
Once Patience was out of the picture, the main target was gone, and it became clear this was more than an issue between two children; this was a widespread behavior problem. Other children were being bothered too, although they kept quiet about it.
In fact, after our experience, another mother happened to carefully ask her child about this child, and found out about some serious bullying incidents. More serious than with Patience, who never let it get There because she said no, told the teacher about it, and got help.
(Earlier this week, I mentioned it suddenly occured to me that children often do not tell, no matter how open a door we may think we create. We all wondered after Monday's post about keeping secrets from parents, will my child not tell me things and if so, how do I get in and find out anyway? I think the answer is to ask ask ask and ask, with occasional interrogating.)
We did try, individually and also officially to open a conversation with the mother of the child who had been bullying, but she denied everything and refused to discuss it.
So it's true, parents are often unapproachable when it comes to problems with their kids, and many stick their heads in the sand, at least for a while---I prefer to call it Processing Time rather than denial.
I'm not in denial, though. If multiple people I knew and trusted had on a variety of different occasions approached me with worries or observations about one of my kids, I would force myself to sit, listen, and think. I think most parents do. In fact, often it is parents paying attention first, and working hard to convince others to take it seriously.
But there is such a fine line, such a delicate balance in who approaches the parent, how they approach, when they approach, and the subject matter to be discussed.
I believe dialogue and outside input can be helpful and valuable to parents and kids, however, there are boundaries, and approaches that will and won't work. While I concede that individual personalities and circumstances are crucial factors, I think there must be some general guidelines that could help us all were we to find ourselves in the position of wanting to discuss a child with his/her parent.
Has anyone ever approached you, concerned about your child? How did they approach you, and what was your reaction?
Have you ever approached another parent about his/her child? How did you approach the other parents and what was his/her reaction?
What guidelines, lessons learned can you share?
copyright 2007 Julie Pippert