“Why was today so rough, buddy?”
He’s sprawled out in bed, shirtless as usual. I scratch and rub his back and massage his scalp. It’s one of the few things he will almost always ask nicely for and not demand outright.
He stares at the wall. This is the point where he usually tells us that he doesn’t want to talk about it, that it makes him too angry. But he answers in a tired, plaintive voice, “I don’t like the calm and return room. It’s too small.”
The calm and return room is a place in his school where students can throw tantrums and melt down in privacy, without causing a scene and interrupting their peers. The staff wait outside with the door open and wait for the student to get their bearing and show that they can return to their routine.
“And my chair. I hate my chair at school. It’s the same stupid little chairs they had at my old school. They told us we could sit anywhere, but now they won’t let me sit at the couch!”
I’m biting my lip. We’re here again. He’s stressed out about something at school, something that most kids don’t notice or care about, and we have to be his intermediaries.
It’s a balancing act. When your kid is upset about something, you get out your parental scales. Put the kid’s concerns on one side and weigh them against a raft of miscellaneous affairs. How does it impact the Big Picture? The teacher’s job? The other students’ education? Your own schedule? Determine: is it a Big Problem or a Little Problem. Then act accordingly.
Sometimes, you’re forced to tell your child that they need to let it go, get over it. Or you hope they can handle the problem on their own. This is all a part of preparing them for becoming an autonomous human being.
But for a kid like Liam, it’s not so easy. He can’t let go the way neurotypical children do. His emotions get ahold of him and he spirals out of control. And being out of control is scary. Even worse, he’s convinced that it will always be like this, that he’ll never have control over himself.
What Liam can handle at his age is drastically different than what other eight-year-olds can. His executive function skills aren’t typical. So, as his parents, we step in.
I say good night and step out of his room. I’m exhausted beyond measure. It’s happening again. Time to translate for him, to email the teacher and inquire about the chair, find out why it’s become such a big deal in Liam’s mind. I walk over to Natania in the living room, frowning.
“He’s having issues with his chair at school. I guess it’s uncomfortable. Or too small. We should probably let them—”
She’s smiling. “Check your email.”
So I do. And the director of his school has sent us a note about his day.
“We found that he does so much better when he is at a desk. We knocked heads over that today but he finally changed the chair and was able to stay at the desk. He wanted to get a science worksheet done because he knew the answers. He wrote some of the words and I wrote some for him. So much progress today and that will continue.”
For this one moment, I don’t have to be the intermediary. They’re already aware of the problem. They’re already working on it.
The relief that washes over me is so intense, so welcome, that I feel tears in my eyes.