Tuesday, April 8, 2008

A Diagnosis

I am in love with the community of bloggers I have found through blogging about autism this month. I was linked to CC who posted an intriguing article found on NPR. The story is called "That Autism Thing" and this particular part of the chronicles focused on Gibbson's initial diagnosis.

Listening to Gibbson's parents' story took me back to a meeting I was apart of last spring. Liam, a 6 year old boy in my class last year, was what everyone called quirky. He was very particular about who he played with, what they played, and made sure everyone was willing to play by his rules. Liam was a very picky eater who would turn his back to everyone in the cafeteria and quit eating. When asked why he told me there were too many smells and "disgusting food" there for him to handle. Academically, Liam preferred to work alone and was above grade level in all areas. He brilliantly wrote screen plays on the Polynesian Wars and created story boards as he planned out his movies. I didn't think Liam was autistic, I just thought he needed to be taught in a different way to tap into his quirky personality and view of the world. I believed his personality made him who he was and didn't believe he was "on the spectrum." Nonetheless, we took him to student support team because we were extremely worried about the lack of nutrition he was receiving and how this may or may not have been causing outbursts at home. We (me, Liam's parents, the principal, school psych, and the SpEd teacher) noticed major patterns in Liam's behaviors once we all began to talk together and sure enough, felt it was best to refer him to the autism team in the county where I work.

The autism specialist came in and observed Liam in an academic setting, social setting, and asked me many questions. Turns out, yep, Liam fell somewhere along the spectrum. I felt guilty for not realizing this myself and then let my guilt go because I remembered that every child with autism is not the same, but unique to the disorder. The day we met to tell his parents what the autism specialist had discovered is a day that will stay with me forever. I am not a parent, but I do love my students like they are my own, and as I sat in the SpEd room listening to the specialist's report my heart was racing, my palms were sweaty, and my eyes were filling up with tears. I put myself in what I thought were Liam's parents' shoes for a moment and thought to myself, "Oh no! What are we going to do? How awful. Here is this little boy, only 6 years old, with this label. How will this impact him for the rest of his life?" Turns out, I was the only one feeling this way. Liam's parents, much like Gibbson's, were relieved because now they knew and could do something about it. They could join support groups and begin to understand their child for who he was. Embarrassingly, it was Liam's parents comforting me, not the other way around.

That day I learned that being diagnosed with something, having a label of whatever it might be, is not a stigma or a horrible thing, but rather a pathway to learning and understanding one another even more.


CC said...

thanks for the link. Yes a diagnosis CAN be very helpful for some. But some diagnoses still carry very negative stereotypes and connotations. For example, we had to give one of our students the diagnosis of MR a few months ago. We all started crying. It really was the best label to describe her current abilities, but there are not a lot of support groups or additional support we could provide with that diagnosis. :( I've been trying to think of a good blog post about that for quite some time.


Such a nice post. I wish you were my son's teacher, I love hearing that teachers care so much about their kids. That it's not actually "just a job."
My son had so many physical delays that they also bled over into emotional problems. A lot like what you are talking about with Liam. PDD, Aspergers, etc. were all tossed around. I never worried about the labels and was always grateful for the extra help and support it afforded him.
And you know what, in some ways having a specialist, seit, or aide there to help seems to have made him a much more well behaved, sweet child than many of the other "typical" kids I have seen.
Again, great post.

Genevieve Hinson said...

You are a wonderful, wonderful teacher. This post made me tear up. I felt that nervousness with you.

It is because of teachers like you, parents like me and students like my son are surviving, thriving in the school system.

It was a teacher like you that helped us - whispered to us - the word Asperger's. It was her dedication to help that got us to the better place we are today.

If you were in the same vicinity as me -- I'd break all 'I don't know you' protocol and give you a big 'ol hug right now.


Sarah said...

I really enjoyed your post and your sentiments! I think it is so important to take into consideration what parents may be feeling at a meeting like that. I feel like there is good and bad associated with SPED labels, the good being the doors to special services that it opens!

Sarah said...

Great post! I need to learn more about Autism. I know there is so much more to it than the blip I studied in college. I know how hard it is to tell parents there could be or is something keeping their child from learning the way most students do. I become attached to my students too and it hurts me too! Kuddos to you for finding out how to help your student!

Ettina said...

"I didn't think Liam was autistic, I just thought he needed to be taught in a different way to tap into his quirky personality and view of the world. I believed his personality made him who he was and didn't believe he was
'on the spectrum.'"

How you naturally viewed Liam, before finding out he was autistic, is exactly how most autistic people want autism to be viewed. My autism is part of who I am.