Nico has been having meltdowns and fits at school recently. We’re not sure what triggers them most times since we hear about them after the fact, but honestly, it could be for a hundred different reasons. He has a solid routine that his teacher team and my husband and I developed together months back, so that has alleviated a lot of his struggles, but I know it’s just hard to stay regulated in such an over-stimulating environment day after day.
Plus, he does not enjoy doing schoolwork for long periods of time. I haven’t quite determined if it’s because he just gets bored of it, truly dislikes it or cannot understand it. It’s probably a combination of all the above, but unfortunately, Nico doesn’t have the luxury to pick and choose when he’s going to focus on his schoolwork; he is seriously behind academically due to the pandemic, remote learning, and limitations caused by his Autism. I sometimes think he throws a fit or has a meltdown on cue because he is about to be asked to do something that he doesn’t want to do. But whatever the reason, it’s not something I want his peers to witness as frequently as they are.
When Nico has a meltdown he can scream uncontrollably, jump up and down, cry inconsolably, and occasionally throw things. He has thrown himself on the floor and even become slightly physical with his teachers and peers. Thankfully, we don’t see the aggression and throwing often, but the screaming, crying and jumping up and down are par for the course, and that is not something that most 9 year olds are doing at school, if at all. I know his classmates probably stare at Nico, unsure of what to do or how to handle him. I’m sure they wonder what is wrong with him. And, my biggest fear…I worry that they are making up their minds about who he is and that he isn’t going to be someone they want to be friends with.
I know that Nico has friends in his class and is sometimes walked to the office for daily pick up by his fellow classmates. It’s sweet to see how proud they seem to be as they walk Nico to the front and how they try to get him to say goodbye before scurrying back to class. That’s super sweet to see. But what concerns me is how unaware Nico seems to be to all of it. He doesn’t naturally say goodbye or thank you, without prompting, like I would love for him to say to his friends so they know he appreciates their help. And every time he walks away, oblivious to their kindness, it makes me wonder how much longer they will find joy in accompanying him or helping him at all.
I guess the fact that Nico is blissfully unaware to most people around him is not all that bad. I know he isn’t thinking about how people are reacting or what they might be saying about him when he’s having a meltdown in class or the hallway. I know he probably isn’t stressing over the fact that he may be all alone in one area of the playground at recess because he just loves being outside. And, I know he may not be focused on the fact that he has special routines and classrooms to go to that his other classmates don’t have and they’re constantly asking why that is.
Nico is just doing his thing, living his life, and trying to navigate his world that he shares with his Autism, which sometimes leads to meltdowns at school. Maybe I should be thankful, but I’m not.
Why am I so anxious and almost sad about it all? Is it because I am projecting my own feelings of rejection and discrimination and judgment that I have felt, and still feel at times, on my son? Probably. I have just seen how cruel people can be.
I have felt, firsthand, the rejection and self-loathing that come because I was told I wasn’t “really Mexican” since I’m only half Latina or that I’m not worth someone’s time simply because my zip code isn’t an East Coast one. Feeling judged because I laughed too loud, showed too much emotion, or even that I was just too eager to be a part of something that had no space for me.
This is what I do not want for my son. I don’t want Nico’s peers to decide his worth based on just a few moments in his day or because he behaves in ways that just aren’t relatable. To pass judgment on someone so quickly without taking the time to look past what can unexpectedly be presented at first glance. To not ask questions or lean in and dive a bit deeper is just so disappointing and selfish, to be honest.
There is a lot of hate and discrimination, racism and homophobia, violence and genocide swirling around us right now fueled by inhumane people. You can’t turn on your television or flip through your news feeds without being enveloped in it. But we can change this narrative if we choose to be humane. Just start there. If you want to be a better version of yourself, just be humane.
I know there is that powerful phrase “Choose Kind” that basically speaks to everything I have been saying here, but for me, I have seen way too much fake kindness masquerading as genuine kindness and it’s so disheartening. But, to “Be Humane” means that you are compassionate, tender, sympathetic, and are consciously working to cause as little harm to another person as possible.
This is what I am teaching my boys. This is what I was taught. To always give people a chance. Love more than you are loved. Give more than you are given. Avoid judgment because everyone is perfectly flawed and we’re all just trying to traverse down our own paths the best we can. To be open to people that are different no matter how many questions you may have. Go ahead and ask them. Don’t assume anything of anyone.
I know Nico is going to continue to struggle as we climb the elementary ladder. I’m preparing myself for it now the best I can. School is hard for him and meltdowns are most certainly going to be a part of his life for the unforeseeable future. My husband and I already have begun to see the looks from other kids. The ones that say, “what’s wrong with him?” “I’m staying clear of that.” I just hope that, instead, his peers—friends hopefully—will be open to learning more about Nico and his Autism; they will choose to be humane.
Nico may not be as concerned as me, which God…I hope that’s true and it stays that way. I wish I did have that tunnel vision and could tune all of this toxic judgment out. My kid is truly lucky in that way. I wish more kids had that natural ability because until we can flip the switch on all these negatively charged, preconceived notions being fueled by an unstable society, children and young adults are going to continue to suffer unnecessarily.
I just can’t have that for Nico or his bro bro, Max. So, I am going to continue to advocate for a world where my Nico wont run the risk of being outside the circle of “normalcy,” simply because he has Autism, but instead will thrive in a world of fabric. Fabric that is being woven together collectively every day and Nico is just one of the many stunning, unique pieces that make up this quilt of inclusivity. No circles to be left out of. No boxes to be closed up in. A vibrant, protective quilt where everyone can find comfort because of its humane warmth. That’s the world I see when I close my eyes and envision Nico truly thriving.