Since I have been looking for a new school for Matthew, I have been focusing on what I expect from a teacher and a school for him, and I have had to answer the question "what am I looking for in the next classroom for Matthew." As I struggle to put my thoughts into words, I have been able to determine that what I am looking for is somewhere that Matthew can learn the skills that he needs to be a functional member of society.
A few weeks ago we went to the grocery store and as we went up and down the aisles, Matthew stopped us every few minutes to talk to people. He was gathering information from strangers and accquantances alike about what was in their grocery carts and what everyone was having for dinner. No matter how often I tried to steer Matthew back on track to us getting our shopping done, he kept stopping and talking to people. Each person reacted so warmly to Matthew, because he is so engaging and endearing when you just run into him and he asks you his questions. However, when you are with him for a period of time, it quickly becomes apparent that his question asking is not endearing, it actually makes him vulnerable, and as he gets older it is more and more apparent that this behavior has to stop.
We spent time practicing at home how you greet people and who you should greet when you are out doing errands- not an easy thing to teach at all. Imagine having to explain why when we are on a walk, I will nod and say hi to people we walk by in the neighborhood, but it is inappropriate to go from saying "hi" to asking all kinds of questions. I also had to explain that sometimes I will talk to people, who I may not know, but that it is different for me to do this than it is for him to do this. There are no hard and fast rules about how we communicate as a society, these are things we learn through daily experiences, however Matthew is not learning these skills, and so I am working to teach him them.
Tonight alone, Matthew received some computer games from one neighbor and a jacket, because he had chatted with her recently, and she thought he would like these things that she was getting rid of. He had an offer of leftover pizza from another neighbor simply because he said the pizza smelled great and commented on how much he LOVES pizza. He tried to stop to ask a neighbor to play catch, while the neighbor was mowing his lawn and was appalled when I told him this wasn't appropraite because of course the neighbor "loves" to play catch with him!
As we rode our bikes by another family, I reminded Matthew that the rules are that he is not to talk to them, or stare at them as he rides by, but rather he is to ride his bike by so that they can go back to their game of catch. No sooner had Matthew ridden by this family, then he said loudly, "Mom, I did it! I didnt stare or talk to them". Let me say, this was equally as humiliating as when he stops and talks to people, and asks about their eating habits!
It is one of the hardest things I have to do to teach him appropriate habits of human interaction. These are skills that humans learn through observing those around them. Unfortunately, matthew is not learning these skills through oberservation, and even worse, he is being reinforced for his inappropriate interactions each and every time people give him things, or offer him some of their pizza simply because it smells good.
I often think that Matthew got the worst combination of disabilities possible. He is amazingly verbal, but doesn't know how to have an appropriate conversation. He is engaging with others, but often inappropriately so. He is endearing and caring about everyone around him, but often because he doesn't separate his caring for others between those he knows and those he doesn't know, he creates situations where he is vulnerable to be taken advantage of.
I am recommitting to working with him to learn the skills necessary to be an appropriate, active participant in society. I am committing to doing this with patience, love and gentleness to try to help Matthew remain his endearing nature, but conbining that with teaching him who to talk to, when and what topics are appropriate. I am asking you to please help me in this process. If Matthew is chatting with you and the topic is inappropriate, let him know and guide him towards an appropriate topic. It takes a village to raise any child, to raise a child with special needs takes a very special village, but Matthew is filled with love and kindness and I want him to be a successful part of life and to do this he first has to learn to interact appropriately with those he comes in contact with.
- I am a single mom of three amazing boys! All three of my sons entered my family through adoption. All three of my boys have developmental disabilities. My oldest son, Matthew has been diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Bipolar Disorder. David, my middle son, has a genetic condition, he has a duplication on his 15th chromosome which leads to autism like symptoms, seizures and learning challenges. My youngest son, Jacob has learning disabilities. Each of my children bring unique challengs to our family and also bring their own personality and joys to our everyday life!