Just a Hug

It started with an introduction, the teacher telling me how musical my son is. Then came the “…but.”

When you’re an active parent raising 4 children, it’s not unusual to get phone calls and written messages from teachers asking to speak with you about your child.  But, when at least one child experiences daily challenges in the classroom, some calls are more interesting than others.

My son’s music teacher seemed to praise him for his musical interest, but she really wanted to know how to handle his meltdowns.

I knew it couldn’t have just been a friendly call.  I knew it couldn’t have been a pitch to enroll him for music lessons because he’s just so into it.  I knew it wasn’t to tell me about how musically gifted he is.  There’s too little time for that. 

Let’s face it, there’s little guidance for most people, let alone parents and teachers, on how to approach conversations about the potentially disruptive behavior of a gifted child on the autism spectrum.  My friend said teachers are taught to have sandwich conversations, where they put a compliment and a concern together to share their thoughts about your child. That’s cute and commendable.

I’ve learned to refrain from being easily offended.  In fact, the tone of this article might suggest I often am, but I mostly find the dialogue to be funky and awkward.  Mostly for the other person, because honestly, I’m used to explaining my son’s behavior more times a day than I need to.  I believe people try to tread lightly, try not to insult you about your child, and try to figure out what to do or say in unfamiliar situations…. I believe people genuinely don’t want to make your life harder than they imagine it already is.

However, what makes these interactions offensive is how often people in education admittedly failed to just talk to my child about how he was feeling, or failed to engage in meaningful dialogue to explain the situation or prepare him for their expectations.  Kids are much more intuitive than we give them credit for, but even as an adult, quickly adapting to the expectations of others is challenging.

When did educators forget that children were people, too?  I get it, not all children communicate the same, but shouldn’t we learn how to communicate with them in ways that make them feel comfortable enough to try and help us understand how they are feeling?

Because most meltdowns originate from a feeling of disruption, or some combination of mixed feelings the individual has yet to identify and understand. And I wouldn’t expect 2 minutes to be enough time for anyone to figure it out.

You know what I told the music teacher who asked for my help and asked for my advice about what to do when my son has a meltdown?

I kindly asked her to give him a little warning before she takes something away that he’s deeply enjoying.

I kindly invited her to ask him how he’s feeling and why.

And best of all, I kindly encouraged her to let him tell her what might cheer him up.

Because I know she’ll be pleasantly surprised to know that his endearing, authentic and very simple answer is usually, “Just a hug.”

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