This guest blog is by Allison Walmark, mother of Ethan and Eliza and top Walk Now for Autism Speaks fundraiser. Her son Ethan is the famous 'Piano Man!' This blog was orginally posted here on SheKnows.com
A SPECIAL BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION AT SCHOOL
In the place of birthday cupcakes, cookies and other confections, my school district has ushered in the politically correct era of “feed-the-brain-and-not-the-belly” mentality, which begat the “Parent/Guardian Birthday Book Read.”
My son, Ethan, loathes most dessert delicacies anyway, (DNA tests to prove he’s actually my biological son are pending) so the book is a nice change of pace.
A special present
Ethan’s birthday was Friday, Sept. 6, so Michael and I were invited to the classroom. Katelyn Kawejsza (pronounced: kah-way-zah) and Alissa Faucher (pronounced: foe-shay), Ethan’s new teacher and paraprofessional respectively, warmly greeted us when we arrived, as did Ethan. In anticipation of the day, Ethan previously told Michael and I that the book read would go as follows — “Daddy reads one page. Mommy reads one page. I [Ethan] read one page.”
Before we read the story, Ms. Kawejsza had the children (and us) sit in a circle as they do every day for “morning meeting.” When seated and quiet, Ms. Kawejsza brought out a small box with a bow, symbolic of a birthday present. She explained that the gift would pass from one child to the next, at which time the class would greet the child with the gift by his/her first name. In turn, the child with the gift then compliments the birthday child with a phrase that begins with “I notice you…” — and the compliment must focus on the child’s actions and behaviors, not his/her physical characteristics.
I notice you...
The first child barely finished the word “you” before tears welled in my eyes. These are some of the compliments Ethan’s classmates said about my son:
“I notice you…”
- say hello to people when you see them in the hallway
- are always quiet and listen when we have circle time
- are always kind to people
- are always happy
- always have a smile on your face
- help your friends on the playground
- have the hottest mom, not only in this class, but in the entire school, and probably the entire town (OK, no one said that. But I’m sure it’s only because the kids aren’t allowed to comment on physical characteristics. That’s the story I’m sticking with.)
At this point, Miss Faucher gave me several tissues to wipe my eyes — and blow my nose in a most unladylike fashion (a Ziering family tradition) — and the compliment circle was only halfway complete. Any mother (parent) would swell with pride to know that her child makes such a positive, lasting impact on classmates. But, only the parent(s) of a special needs child can truly understand the daily mental, physical, financial and emotional effort it takes — by both parent and child — to undergo never-ending therapies, IEPs, PPTs and extracurricular activities, for a child to be accepted in the mainstream.
As noted author, speaker, cited expert and autism advocate Temple Grandin perfectly stated, “I am different, not less.” Ethan’s generation — a generation who bears witness to 1 in 50 peers diagnosed on the autism spectrum — understands he is different, but not less. What Ethan’s classmates don’t notice is how hard he (and other special needs children) works to assimilate into a typical classroom and typical society.
Continue reading this post to see what 'They Don't Notice.'