Last week I met with Jewel’s middle-school teachers as they each assessed how she is doing so far. It was a really good meeting, not a litany of complaints, but a great, honest exchange of ideas about the best ways to get the best out of Jewel while taking into consideration her autism.
Some of it hurts my heart, to hear about how Jewel pushes back when it comes to doing warmups in math (she can’t see the point) or how she lashes out at classmates when she can’t tune them out. This makes me worry about long-term perceptions about her among her peers. However, parents and teachers have assured me that kids are mostly about themselves in these tween years, and such things may soon be forgotten.
What I love about these teachers is their willingness to make accommodations, to figure out what works individually for Jewel. That may mean a more lenient goal time in running the “cross” in PE, or letting her show her work in different ways in math. Their open-mindedness in creative solutions to help her best learn and thrive are appreciated and welcomed. I came away from the meeting impressed, and grateful.
Something else really amazing has happened at school. Jewel decided to start a fashion club. It takes serious initiative … she had to get the administration to sign off on the plan, line up a teacher advisor, do a club “rush” with signups and posters, and come up with a game plan for what the club might do at each meeting.
I thought maybe it would be too much, or Jewel would lose interest. It’s been quite the contrary. Her special-ed program director agreed to be the advisor at the lunch meetings, and Jewel’s “rush” efforts (a glittery poster full of fashion designer sketches and eye-catching signup sheet) attracted 20-plus kids to join.
This is WAY outside Jewel’s comfort zone … at club rush, for example, she had to sit at a table and ask her peers at a new school to join something she has created. The fact that she did it, her bravery, still amazes me. I couldn’t do something like that at that age.
And then, yes, all the gals (yes, all girls, it IS a fashion club) that signed up showed up for the first meeting. Jewel was bubbling about it after school, saying it went extremely well and going so far as to observe, “Mom, I think it’s really going to help me fit in at school.” That’s a lot of insight. She also told me that she wants the newspaper to do a story on it and that creating the club “will look good on her college applications.” She’s got a little public relations gene in her.
Her special ed director/advisor gave a glowing report after the first club meeting: “They ate lunch, talked, and had fun being creative with the art supplies you brought in. … I wrote “Music Playlist” on the board and had the girls sign up to pick different songs for us to listen to as we worked and socialized. Fun was had by all!”
I don’t take such victories for granted. Jewel’s social limitations and awkward encounters have made me appreciate the successes all the more. My favorite part is that she did this and continues to do this on her own. She has complete control over her “fitting in” and “being normal” (what she calls “making my autism disappear,” but what I think of as using all of her brain to her advantage), and with that ownership comes pride and bravery and determination.
So yes, I revel in this, but I must point out, my husband and I are fond of saying, “Well let’s not start patting each other on the backs quite yet.” This is the edited-for-basic-cable-TV version of a memorable Harvey “The Wolf” Keitel line in “Pulp Fiction,” cleaned up to hilarious effect. It helps us keep perspective that even when things are going well with Jewel, it doesn’t mean there’s smooth sailing from here on out. But of course, this is true of any child, and perfectly, wonderfully normal.