I talked to the boys' 2nd grade class this morning about Fragile X and autism. They couldn't have been a nicer audience. Kids are so honest and open. They asked a lot of questions and talked about what they've noticed about Zack and AJ. They were so totally, innocently, nonjudgmentally sweet and kind. I wonder when that changes - the enthusiasm to learn. I wonder when I'll be met with bored stares instead of shining, excited smiles. Maybe around 5th or 6th? Hopefully I'll always be something new and exciting the kids get to see that day.
I told their teacher about the Mouse & Tracy hyperarousal exercise last week, and she did the exercise with the kids yesterday, in preparation for my coming. She put the kids into groups of three; one of them pretends to be a child with autism, while the other two ask questions, and shout things at them, and wave their hands in their faces, and touch their backs and shoulders and arms, and basically do whatever they can to make the child pretending to have autism uncomfortable.
Afterward, the "autistic" kids discussed how they felt. They wrote a list on the board:
felt like I was going to throw up
a little angry
wanted to get out of here
I can't tell you how happy I was to see that. These kids got it, before I even showed up! They understood how kids with autism feel different.
I went on to talk about Fragile X Syndrome. I told them it was a lot like autism. I asked them if they knew what genes and DNA were, and they all stared at me blankly, so I explained that genes are the tiny, tiny things that all of us are made up of. We all have millions of little genes that make up our bodies, and in Fragile X, a little piece of one of those genes doesn't work right. That's all that's different between Zack and AJ, and all the other kids - one tiny piece of one tiny gene.
So much more alike than different.
I told them some of the ways Zack and AJ are affected by Fragile X. How it makes them feel. I asked the kids, "how would you feel if, right now, unexpectedly, a firecracker went off right in the middle of this classroom?"
They said they wouldn't like it. They'd be scared.
I said well, when someone shuts a door kind of loudly, or maybe drops a book down onto a desk, it sounds as loud as a firecracker to Zack. It hurts his ears and it scares him.
I asked them, "If a firecracker went off in the classroom, and scared you, do you think you could sit right down and work on your math assignment?"
They all shook their heads. No, they'd be too upset. I explained that that is why the boys have to do their studying in the autism room at school - because it's quieter and easier for them to concentrate on their studies there.
I also told them about how hard it is for Zack and AJ to talk. I told the kids that my boys have thoughts in their heads, just like they all do, only they can't get the thoughts to come out of their mouths. They can't make the words come; at least not more than a couple, simple words at a time. I asked them how frustrated would you be if you couldn't say what you wanted to say? If you raised your hands to say something, and then opened your mouths, but nothing came out?"
They agreed, that wouldn't be too much fun. Kids love to be called on and allowed to speak.
I asked them what other things they noticed about Zack and AJ when they were in the classroom.
"talking a lot, really loud sometimes."
"chewing on stuff."
"can't be still."
"Zack puts his fingers in his ears."
The kids were really observant. I told them that a lot of the things they do are because they are anxious and nervous. They do a lot of little things just to help themselves feel better.
We continued to borrow from the Holly Roos book of How to Talk to Kids About Fragile X (what? She hasn't written a book? Well she should....) We made a big list on the whiteboard (chalkboards are so 1990s) of things the kids like to do, and things they like about school.
playing in leaves
playing with friends
This was a very popular activity. They could have done that all day long.
We went through the lists, and I asked the kids if they thought Zack and AJ liked doing these things, too. If they did, I circled the item. If not, I crossed it out.
In the end, we had circled a lot more than we crossed out. I pointed out how Zack and AJ like almost all the same things other kids do. They are much more alike than different!
One little blonde boy piped up. "Yesterday, I said hi to AJ, and he said hi back to me without anyone telling him to."
How great was that? I told him that was wonderful. Loving how these kids reach out to AJ and Zack.
"You can all say hi to both boys," I told them. "They might say hi back. You can also give them five. You know, either hold your hand up, or out, and say "gimme five! And if you hold out both hands, they'll give you 'two fives!'"
I told them what a great class they were, and how they had asked all good questions. I told them it was okay to ask about Zack and AJ, or really anyone with a disability. It was okay to notice that they are a little different. It's okay if they don't understand them all the time. But it was never, never okay to make fun of a person with any disability, or tease them, or call them names.
Speaking of which ...
I couldn't help but think, if only someone had come in and talked to Ann Coulter's 2nd grade class about this. It's too bad she couldn't have been there today. She needed that speech a lot more than that group of 2nd graders did. As I was telling them about it not being okay to call others names or tease them, looking at all those sweet, honest, not-a-mean-bone-in-their-bodies kids, I thought, they would never do that anyway.
Way back in the day, someone needed to explain to little Annie Coulter that it is not okay to call people names. That it is never okay to call anyone a retard.
We are just so much more connected than ever. What might have been acceptable in certain small company is now tweeted across the world. Audiences are bigger than ever. It's important to remember, especially when online, to watch our words. It doesn't matter who it is - a special needs person, a typical person, a classmate, a stranger, a celebrity, a smart person, someone more challenged, or the President of the United States - it's never okay to call anyone derogatory names. There are better ways to communicate, and name calling reduces you to the status of the schoolyard bully, instead of a respected Fox News journalist.
Which leads me to another question I just have to ask - how come she's not fired for things like this? I understand that we all have the right to free speech, but it does have some limitations - I looked it up, here.
You can't just say whatever you want, whenever you want. You can't say anything that could be presented as....
Clear and Present Danger
Libel and Slander
Conflict with other Legitimate Social or Governmental Issues
Time, Place and Manner
Based on at least two of these, I think Fox News has grounds to fire her. Media people get fired all the time for shooting off their mouths. Firing her would set a standard for friendly, no harmful speech. If she had said anything remotely racist, it wouldn't have been tolerated. This should be no different.
And now I've gone off on a bit of a tangent. I couldn't help but think about it this morning, though, after talking to the kids. They were so refreshingly receptive. Completely open to the idea that they COULD be friends with someone with a disability. She could learn a lot from them.
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