My son was in a gymnastics class last year.
He loved moving his body. He loved the other kids. He loved feeling accomplished at the end.
Although he loved all of these things, he still struggled to get out the door every Saturday morning. Crippling anxiety would grip him, about five minutes before we needed to leave, every single week.
After deep breathing, talking through ways to cope, getting him into the car, getting him to sit down and seat belt in, and driving to the gym, we were usually about five minutes late to class.
I considered that a win.
The coach however (and I use the term “coach” loosely here – this was a beginning tumbling class and the teacher looked like a teenager himself) did not.
When my son arrived late for the third time, the coach started to yell, in front of the entire class, as he walked out to the gym mat.
“You’re late! Again! Just for that, you can give me ten push-ups.”
With terror on his face, my son did the push-ups.
Through tears of anger and frustration, I watched, not knowing how to respond. “If you knew how hard he worked to get here this morning, you would be congratulating and not punishing him,” I thought.
This kind of thing happens all the time. There are many situations with kids at school, in extracurriculars, and at church, that we publicly take for granted. There are certain phrases used all the time with my sons that show a lack of understanding and empathy for kids in general, and specifically for children with learning differences.
What I Wish People Would Stop Saying To My Child
You’re Not Paying Attention
Or repeating “pay attention” over and over. If a child has attention issues, then paying attention is going to be a challenge, especially in a room with other children and lots of other things to do. No child with ADHD ever pays attention just because someone tells them to. My son has to be engaged and often allowed to move (not sit quietly or stand still in line) in order to really be able to focus. No matter how many times someone asks him to, he will not simply be able to “pay attention.” It’s the reason he has a diagnosis.
You’re Always Late
I struggle with this one – mostly because I try to be early everywhere I go. I hate being late. I want to respect other people’s time. I understand the importance of this and do not think my son should receive special treatment.
Having said that, my son is going to be late sometimes, for reasons that are far beyond his control. If a child is being transported by the parent, how can he possibly be the one in control of being on time anyway? Even without any differences, a child cannot drive herself to class or school. A parent is responsible for it. Every single time I hear a young child being “talked to” about being late, I cringe because I think the conversation is better had with the parent.
You Need To Try Harder
I want to scream when someone says this to my child (or any child) and here’s why. My son works harder than any other child I know, day in and day out, with less progress. My son works hard just to shower and show up. He doesn’t need to be told to try harder. Maybe, “I want you to try again,” but please don’t tell my son to “try harder.” It implies knowledge that you simply do not have about his intent and ability.
Don’t Be So Lazy
Between sensory issues and chronic illness, my oldest son often appears to be lazy. He asks for help in basic tasks. He doesn’t want to get up and go outside. He often appears to just be a lazy teenager. And I am sure he is – sometimes. But assuming laziness first helps no one. Honestly, its derogatory and rude.
Now that my rant is over, let me say this – I have some grace for all the folks that have said these things to my children. I am sure I have said the same things, in the past , as well. These statements are an unfortunate part of our cultural interactions with children. It’s why I am writing this. I want to challenge these statements that we too often take for granted.
I went up to my son’s coach after class that day and apologized for our lateness. I explained a little bit about my son’s differences and asked if, in the future, he would talk to me about any concerns he has with lateness, rather than my son. He sheepishly said, “Yeah, I guess it’s not really his fault anyway. It’s not like he’s driving himself here.”
I am learning to speak up. It helps my son to be sure.
I hope it helps us all.