I had an annual dilemma when a new school year began. Do I meet with the new teacher and try to “explain” my son to her or do I wait for the call? The call, which inevitably would come because he’d do something−never anything destructive or outrageous−but something she wouldn’t understand…and then my phone would ring.
It was the early 90s and there still wasn’t any awareness of Aspergers and as far as we knew, there wasn’t a medical diagnosis to explain his inner workings. Rather than take focus off of his challenges by coming off as the over-bearing, over-coddling crazy mom, I chose to wait for the call.
We were about a month into kindergarten when his teacher contacted me and asked if I could meet with her after school. “Nothing to be alarmed about,” she assured me, “but Jonathan’s behavior on the playground is ‘different’ and I’m not sure how to handle it.”
We sat face to face… I could see her perplexed look of concern as she recited the recess scene:
When something happens on the playground Jonathan doesn’t like, he curls his hands into claws, makes a roaring sound and chases after the other children. It scares them.
I immediately, without hesitation, knew what was up. Throughout the summer Jonathan was captivated by Disney’s Jungle Book, watching it countless times to the point of memorizing every line and replaying every scene. “He’s Shere Kahn the villainous Bengal tiger with his claws out,” I thought to myself. Smiling inwardly, I was secretly impressed with his poetic allegory for expressing anger. Ah, but the common folk need more conventional methods so I responded by saying “I think I know what he’s doing and why. I’ll have a chat with him.”
I told Jonathan that I thought he was clever to show that he was upset by “being Shere Kahn” but that the other kids didn’t really know the story as well as he did and it would be better if he used his words instead.
That’s all it took. He just needed someone who understood what he was communicating and help him understand that, in this instance, there was a more effective way to get his point across. Off he went to join Baloo and Mowgli on their jungle adventures once more. And Shere Kahn never appeared on that playground again.
Of course, ultimately I found him a school where creative thinking was encouraged. And Shere Kahn never appeared on that playground either, but for a different reason. He was finally in a more accepting environment surrounded by teachers who appreciated his unique form of expression.