Recently, I’ve doubled my piano student load in order to pay the bills around here. Don’t worry, 15 students= 7.5 hours of work a week, with hardly any drive time since they all live in my town. I’m not going crazy…yet.
One of my new students is on the autism spectrum, recently diagnosed. The mom has talked to me many times about his issues, constantly apologizing for the way he behaves.
But you know what? He is quickly becoming one of my favorite students. Granted, I don’t have to get him to finish his chores or homework. But a 30 minute piano lesson can be a surprising pressure-cooker for behavior.
One of the things I noticed right away is that when he does talk, it’s whatever is on his mind, right there in the moment, hurtful or not. This is one of the things his mom warned me about, saying that he has a very difficult time understanding social situations and having any sort of empathy for others. Most of his therapy has been suppling him with memorized phrases to say in different situations, like, “I’m very sorry I hurt your feelings, I won’t do it again.”
I find his honesty a breath of fresh air, quite honestly. When I asked if I could write finger numbers on his hands, he looked down at the floor and said, “That is the strangest question anyone has ever asked me.” Haha, right? How many kids have THOUGHT that, but never said it? He’s never pretending to be excited, he’s never pretending to understand. We need people like this in the world, people who cannot pretend, who cannot feign emotion.
But I leave his house every week, thinking about the emotions associated with childhood disabilities. Many times, I’ve tried to put myself in the place of the mother of a child with a severe disability. Would I feel like I had failed him in some way? This thought had never occurred to me until I had kids of my own. When I look at AJ’s little hands and feet, I think, “my body GREW those!” It’s the craziest realization that I think can only belong to a mother. If he had a disability of some sort, would I grieve that somehow, my body had not supplied the needed ingredients to give him a normal life?
My kids have inherited many of my traits, both good and bad. I see this most clearly with Gregory. He has social anxiety issues, and watching him struggle at the library’s story time (he won’t sit within a mile and begs to go home) or shut down on a play date causes my heart to hurt. I was just like him growing up. Even once I learned to conquer my social anxiety, being around people was an absolute chore. In fact, it’s still a lot of work for me to attend social functions, parties and playdates. I am saddened because I know that Gregory will have a lot of the same work ahead of him. I am saddened that he didn’t get Jesse’s outgoing personality instead.
But I also know that this social anxiety as a child is what caused me to read all the time. While other kids were out making friends, I was reading every book I could get my hands on. I spent hours every day, locked in my room writing. It’s made me who I am today. So, perhaps my “disability” as a child one of my greatest assets. We need people in the world who are willing to lock themselves away and write, just as much as we need the ones who are always moving, conversing and getting stuff done.
From now on, I am determined to think of disabilities as opportunities instead.