God knows, I'm no expert on any area. I am merely a parent whose entire focus was not only to help these children cope as much as I could with the hurdles they faced on a daily basis, but also to learn all I could about these hurdles - from experts, fellow special needs parents, research and other resources - to be able to advocate for my children in the most helpful and productive way. In the end, advocating for your child inspires the child to advocate for themselves, which is the end goal.
This is an article I wrote over 7 years ago, but it still hits the nail on the head of how beautiful children can be. Perhaps, we as adults can learn more from children and ways they help each other rather than being that authoritative figure 'going by the book'.
I hope you enjoy today's sample. Feel free to share your own stories and thoughts.
Happy Hump Day!
I remember my daughter's first day of Kindergarten as if it was yesterday. She was scared, nervous and anxious, but with the love of a phenomenally in-tuned, hands-on teacher, she was eased into school with the help of our own friendly neighborhood Spiderman.
The first thing I noticed about Shawn was his small size. He was about the same height as my two-year old son, Xander back then. But, boy, was he ever a fireball. He bubbled over with energy, talked out of turn, made loud noises when it was time to be quiet and couldn’t sit still. And, to the heartbreak of his teacher, spent a great deal of time in the ‘Sad Chair’ to calm himself down. His actions never bothered me much, though. He reminded me a lot of my daughter. The difference was she fought with every ounce of her being to keep herself calm, whereas Shawn seemed not to be able to do so.
In most ways my daughter was an average five-year old girl. She loved to draw, do crafts and run around. She was intelligent, and still is, with an insatiable hunger to learn. It’s not what people saw that made her different. It’s what they couldn’t see. She had Sensory Processing Disorder, or SPD.
In short, SPD is a neurological disorder that can affect how a child’s brain is able to process sensory information. Messages the environment get to the brain, but they get ‘scrambled’ during the processing stage because it can’t read them. This can cause tremendous overstimulation, confusion and, as a result, frequent meltdowns.
My daughter had always been interested in other children, but was too afraid to get close as she was never sure how another person would stimulate her sensitive senses. Every so often, though, but not too often, she crossed paths with a little boy or girl she felt safe enough to open up to. And Shawn was that shining light for her. In fact, he was one of the rare people who brought out her gorgeous little smile.
After a week of preparing her for the day, we lined up outside the door with the rest of the kids. She, unable to handle close proximities of the line up, stood at the end of the line behind Shawn.
As she leaned against the wall, her head bowing down in shyness, Shawn turned around and said, “Hi! I’m Shawn. Like my shoes?”
He stuck his foot out at her to show her his fabulous Spiderman slip-on running shoes. That one little gesture stopped my daughter’s little chin from quivering and almost changed it into a smile.
Shawn continued speaking in a loud, speedy voice. “Look! I have a Spiderman backpack too. I like Spiderman. He’s a superhero, you know. He can do things nobody else can.”
She didn’t say a word to him, but I noticed her little smile got bigger the more he spoke. She looked at me, covered her mouth and released a tiny giggle—something we rarely saw.
Suddenly, the bell rang and Mrs. P., the Kindergarten teacher, bounded out to greet her new students.
“Good morning, good morning, good morning!” she said, holding the door open. “Shawn, either come help Mrs. P hold the door open, or please get back in line and give Jaimie her space. You don’t like your space invaded, neither does she. Now, let’s go have some fun, everyone!”
Shawn held the door open while all the students walked in. But as we got through the second set of doors leading to the classroom, my daughter froze and instantly began to cry.
“No, Mama,” she said, shaking her head. “I can’t go in there without you. Don’t make me do this.”
Fighting back my own tears, I tried showing a brave face so her fear would ease. “Honey, it’s just like we practiced, remember? You remember Mrs. P. Please, why don’t we give it a try, okay?”
For fifteen minutes I tried every tactic I’d learned in her therapy to ease her into other situations to no avail. Her pleas grew more desperate, her crying intensified and she bear-hugged my legs so I couldn’t walk. Just as I was about to give up, Mrs. P. came out of the classroom holding hands with Shawn.
She knelt down to my daughter’s level and said, “You remember Shawn, right? He’d love for you to come in and be his carpet friend today.”
Shawn handed her a Kleenex. “Yeah, you can be Spidergirl. She’s a superhero too. She gets scared sometimes because she’s different, but always does her best. Just like me and Spiderman.”
My daughter took the Kleenex, wiped her nose, then took Mrs. P.’s other hand. I stayed for about half-an hour until I saw her ease a bit. Then we did our High-Five ritual—high-fives, see ya later, I love you—and I walked to the door.
Before I leaving the school, Mrs. P. called to me. “Miss Laird, do you have a moment?”
I turned around and we talked between the double doors, as she continued. “I paired your girl with Shawn because they seemed to connect on a level I don’t see often.” She touched my arm. “Shawn has a variety of developmental, learning and behavioural struggles. This is my third year with Shawn. But he’s my little hero because he has an uncanny gift of seeing other children who have hurdles, like she does, and makes them feel better. She’ll be fine.”
And she was. In fact, Shawn was one of the few children she called a friend. They stuck together like glue, always offering comfort to one another. And whenever my girl got scared or wasn’t feel well on a certain day, he’d stick his Spiderman shoe up at her and say, “See? Remember Spiderman,” and she’d giggle.
Shawn had to be moved to a different classroom, but she still talked about him for years afterwards.
He often enters my thoughts and I hope that he used his struggles as a source of strength to reach his highest potential, just as my daughter has. To me, he’ll always be the little superhero who made my daughter’s smile make a rare appearance.