Full Title: Fortunate Ones to have been Given Such Tender Souls who See things Differently: A Mother’s Perspective of Raising a Twice-exceptional Child
By Rashmii Mahendra.
I had followed my morning routine and reached the school gates to collect my son for lunch as he is not able to eat in the school canteen due to the pungent smells and loud noises of children chattering in the dining hall. This is something that can be expected from children on the spectrum. His sensibilities are much more accentuated due to sensory issues, and sometimes it can be daunting in the absence of self-awareness. As I waited in the reception area for the class teacher to bring him down from the classroom, something that usually took seven to ten minutes, I quietly read some leaflets that were on the table. Nothing had prepared me for what was about to happen next.
The doors opened with a thud, and I could hear my son saying, “This is a disaster.”
To which I instinctively stood up faster than my own head could fathom (a mother’s fight and flight response) and looked him in the eyes and saw many tears streaming down his cheeks. I noticed his hair was wet too.
The teacher’s face was equally perplexed and he said with a slight frown on his face, “I’m afraid we’ve had a bad morning.”
I was thinking of the worst as a hundred things ran through my mind of what could have taken place that got labeled as “bad.” My worst was that there had been some altercation between my son and another student. I kept my demeanor cool. Something that I have learned over the years living with a twice-exceptional child is that they can read your body language quicker than predators can smell their prey. When the child is very troubled it helps if the parent is composed so that the child can get some relief. It was important at this time for me to appear unrattled, and I was interested to hear what happened without judging.
As the teacher was explaining what had happened, my son standing behind him interrupted him with,” I’m not coming back after lunch. I have had a bad morning Mumma, I’m not going back.”
I acknowledged my son by giving him eye contact, and he ran to stand by my side. I kept myself attuned at the same time to what the teacher had said. I noticed that the teacher was not comforting my son even though he was distraught.
The explanation was that in the break time the children had all gone to the playground, and my son’s class had noticed a stub that had remained in the ground after a bush was all cut off, probably from the school gardener who most likely followed instructions that the bush was growing in the wrong direction and to cut it all off for the children’s safety. The unusual thing that had happened is that the gardener had left a stub sticking out that was noticeable. The children in my son’s class were then tempted to pull out the stub since the whole bush had been cut. So the class teacher explained as they were pulling it from the ground with mighty force, my son intercepted and said, “Stop! You are murdering the plant!”
The children continued to pull it regardless of what my son was saying, so this time my son stood in front of the stub as he pushed his way in and said, “You cannot pull it out; it is living and breathing. I won’t allow it!”
My son is not built meekly. He has a sturdy build so it would be hard to knock him down unless three to four children were to try at once. So the children were not able to get to the plant once my son stood to guard it. I could imagine how emotional he would have been at this time to witness the children doing something that was much against his value system.
The teacher then explained that as the bell had gone off to go back into the classroom after the break, my son refused to go back to class. That would have been at 10:50 a.m. The teachers tried to get him back to the classroom, but he refused and continued to stand in front of the stub. The teacher explained that my son and a supply teacher had to stay outside till noon in the rain guarding the plant. The supply teacher could not leave my son alone, so she stayed back with him. That explained why my son was wet. The class teacher also added, “He was right in his stance. The children were destroying it.”
I looked at my son and held his hand to comfort him at this point. The class teacher walked away, and as he was opening the door to go back into the main school he said to me, “Please bring him back after lunch as I don’t want him to miss the science class.” To which I nodded and said, “I will do my best.”
My son continued to say that he would not be going back after lunch. As we stepped outside of the reception back into the rain and down the concrete path, with the strong gust of wind pushing both of us down, I said, “I’m so proud of you. I too would have done the same thing,” and I hugged him.
I felt it was very important to address the painful emotions that he was still experiencing long after the incident had taken place. Living with a twice-exceptional child, I know that this morning would have been traumatic for him. It was as much about the plant as it was being disappointed by the children’s lack of empathy towards the stub--the feeling of isolation of only him guarding a living being. Some of these children he was very fond of and had formed friendships within the three months that he had begun his new school. The feeling of being let down by his friends must have spiraled into feelings of solitary despair.
After the hug, he at once relaxed and started talking with passion about the morning. This time it was his interpretation of the incident regarding the stub. His version was much more elaborative and emotional with fine details weaved into it. I was happy at this point because he was expressing his feelings, and it is healthier to discuss the event rather than keep it inside.
That night around 12.30 a.m. my son squealed loudly. I woke up with a startle and went running into his room to find him crying. I hugged him and asked what happened. My son said, “We have to bring Henry home.”
I asked, “Who is Henry?”
He replied saying, “I gave the stub a name; his name is Henry. We have to bring him home to protect him. I don’t trust the children. They will pull him out. Mumma, promise me you will bring Henry home?” To which I agreed as that would help him go back to sleep.
It took me a while to go back to sleep as I held his hand to comfort his thoughts. I thought about the incident and thought what made a third-grade student take such a bold stance against his classmates. Is this not strength of character? Is this not a good thing? Is this not the meaning of education to protect the environment to stand up for something that cannot speak? I wondered deep down, do the teachers know how traumatic this incident was? To my son the plant was a person, a living being, a plant that deserved life. It needed love and protection. He named the plant and identified its safety as being home with him. He knew Henry was unsafe, and it was unsettling for him to allow him to stay in the school playground. My son begged me to bring him home. I had a moral obligation to keep my promise. I wondered as a parent of a twice-exceptional child, are we the fortunate ones to have been given such tender souls who see things differently and have the courage to stand for what they believe? It is not always convenient to be in flight and fight mode as a parent constantly. Adrenaline runs high as no one day is the same, but it is important to live in this moment and tell yourself that this was not a bad day, that this was a good day!
Whilst eating breakfast the next morning my son said, “Just imagine if Henry was the last plant on planet Earth. Would the children still be pulling it out, knowing that our oxygen and our being depended on this ONE plant. How would they have behaved?”
I understood now the gravity of his thinking yesterday and why he was protecting it as he did. I replied, “Well, if you put it like that, son, they would not have been pulling it out, and you did the right thing to protect it.” I looked at him and had to pinch myself that this is indeed a third-grader. I was worried at the same time hoping that he would be gracious to his classmates and not judge them for what they did. My role as a parent was to coach my son too for what happened yesterday and to show him how to forgive the children. We all make mistakes, and that is why we are humans. My son was emotionally in a much better place today then he was yesterday. As we walked to school we both checked on Henry and could see he was alive. What happened yesterday had a purpose--it had a meaning. It was not just a kid behaving emotionally without reason; it was a twice-exceptional child who had embodied the experience of the plant that was being uprooted by force from the children, so much so that he could not go back into the classroom.