I don’t know how the conversation started. My students had begun to discuss “sports dogs”, which, I can only assume meant “support dogs” when one particularly articulate student stated: “Sports dogs help people with different abilities.”
How sweet. This was not a topic I had ever brought up them. For some reason they had questions so I entered into the conversation.
“Perhaps, you are thinking of Service Dogs. Those are dogs that have jobs to help people who need some support, to navigate their day.”
This rivets a group of seven year-olds, because, unlike adults, they firmly understand that there is nothing quite as magical as a dog that becomes a person’s pilot for managing a day. In fact, these kids were, at that very moment struggling in some way, to manage their own.
Surely, each of these seven year-olds stayed quiet for a moment while they imagined having a special dog of their own.
I decided to share a little of my story, with a picture of Miss Kate, and her Autism Service Dog, Oakley. I shared the one above.
They oohed and awwed over his velvety ears and then asked a few appropriately innocent questions:
“Where does he poop?”
“Is he in Grade Four too?”
And then a question, I should have, but hadn't been prepared for:
“Why does she have a Service Dog?”
Well, she has autism.
And I didn't mind telling them this, because Kate herself, has a sweet, sort of pride in her condition, but it was what was coming next, that was going to cause me some trouble.
Not only are there children with autism in this very class, but my prepared speech for adults, when they have questions, simple wasn’t going to work.
I couldn’t discuss the idea of a neurological disorder, and I wasn’t even sure I believed that particular idea, anyway. I had seen so many fabulous neurotypes by now, that I knew autism was certainly not what the experts had been telling us all along.
What then, would I say, to these sweet faces, some of whom carried the diagnosis themselves, and may not even be privy to it yet.
I wish I could say, I called on years of teaching wisdom and autism parenting and let out a sound bite worthy of their ears.
But instead, I stuttered, talked over myself, and said some rambling incoherent version of all the definitions that have been swirling in my head, over the years, as I’ve tried to understand my sweet girl.
Could I even put into words what autism was for Kate? I created this blog, to try, and have yet to succeed.
It may have taken me a lot longer than it should have to come to this conclusion, but I finally realize that the only person that can truly understand Kate’s autism, is Kate herself. So, all I can do is hope that one day, she will explain it to me.
Happy Mail to:
27 Wellington Row
Saint John, NB
I've been a tad overwhelmed with teaching Kindergarten during a pandemic (masks and all) butttttttt, I have not forgotten my sweet patr https://www.patreon.com/sunnyandsinclair
Grace and Kate's mom. (Shanell)