Mum-of-four Adrian Wood writes at Tales of an Educated Debutante. She recently shared her 3-year-old son Amos’ first day at preschool – and explained how difficult it is to navigate the well-intentioned “how is school going?” questions from friends and family.
The Questions I Can't AnswerHow did he like school?How was his first day of school?How does he like school? I don'…
Filling-in the blanks
“The questions I can’t answer,” Adrian began. “How did he like school? How was his first day of school? How does he like school?”
Adrian revealed she’s still struggling with the best way to respond to these well-meaning questions, because she’s really not sure of the answers.
“I don’t know, I’ve begun to say. I’m supposed to say, “Great!”, but I can’t. I hope so, but I really have no idea. I wish I knew. It’s awfully hard, this never knowing and wondering when your little person can’t articulate their day or feelings.”
Amos has autism, and while his language is developing in leaps and bounds, Adrian says that labelling feelings is a trickier business for her little guy.
“Last summer he had six words and now he has too many to count,” Adrian told parenting site Babble. “However, he doesn’t have language to answer questions about how he feels. He can make choices between what to eat or what to do if we go outside, but not clarify about his day. It requires reading of his cues much like one would a young toddler.”
When Amos started preschool recently, Adrian took a deep breath put her trust in her little boy – and also in the children he was going to school with, his educators, the lunchroom staff and even the bus driver.
It’s a leap of faith that many parents can relate to, with an extra degree of difficulty because Amos has extra needs.
A different story
Adrian said that Amos’ experience of starting school provided a sharp contrast to what she’d encountered with her first three kids.
“I remember when my first three 3 year olds went to preschool. They were excited to go, some more nervous than the others, and when I picked them up, we walked home for lunch and they jabbered about the day. What they did, people in their class, the teachers, playing in the gym, even the letters in their names, I heard about every single detail.”
Adrian explained that the less verbal – but very important – cues she gleaned from Amos after school provided some insight into how things may have gone.
“I saw his face light up when he saw me from outside the window at his bus stop. He lit up and wriggled in excitement and when I made my way up the bus stairs, he cackled in delight and leapt into my arms. A kind kindergartener handed me his backpack and then he got down and climbed down the big old bus stairs. All by his own self. Bye bye, yellow school bus, he said. I think that means he liked it.”
One size doesn’t fit all
Adrian’s post is a great reminder that the default conversations we have around parenting don’t suit every situation or family. Hopefully her post will spark further dialogue about how to support parents and kids with disabilities and differences, and the questions they’d like us to ask them about their lives.
Other parents of children with autism have been chiming in on Adrian’s update, sharing similar stories about communication challenges, as well as some insightful solutions.
One commenter posted in response: “It can take your breath away some days when people ask. I have wondered when that question won’t hit so hard MANY days. Most days.”
“I wish more teachers understood we don’t get the same information from our kids as other parents but we still have the same questions and need them to fill in our blanks,” one mum wrote.
Another wrote: “I spent over 20 years trying to convince teachers how important it was to have a note in the backpack to tell me …briefly … about the day. I had success finally when I supplied a journal and sent them notes about the afternoon/night. They wanted to know about that time, too, and began to reciprocate.”
“That is the hardest part about sending our kiddos to school. What did he enjoy? What was hard? Does he like it? Does he miss me? What can I do to make his day better? We get little notes from the teacher every day, but it doesn’t replace hearing details from him,” another empathetic parent wrote.
Are you the parent of a child with extra needs? How have you navigated the usual questions surrounding your child’s experience of childcare or school? What kinds of questions should friends and family be asking, instead?