Thursday, September 16, 2010

Mean People Suck

When my oldest son was beginning to take swim lessons, around age 4, we took the advice of many preschool moms and enrolled him with Miss B, a tough older woman with a large pool outside of her magnificent house on the banks of the Chattahoochee River here in Atlanta. We had heard about her tough-love approach to teaching swim lessons, so I was somewhat prepared for a no-nonsense, let's-do-this attitude. That's fine. I'm from the Midwest where no-nonsense is practically a middle name. But instead of the  familiarity of "my people," we found ourselves unexpectedly thrust into a foreign land of ridicule, abuse, and actually some danger. That's because Miss B's approach to teaching a shy, cautious child to swim boiled down pulling him into the deep end of the pool and then letting him go to find his own way to the side. She sidestroked alongside him, far enough away that he couldn't reach out to her, but close enough to barrage him with negative comments along the lines of "don't be a baby," and "big boys learn to swim."

When my son reached the side, crawled out of the pool, and then collapsed into a puddle of shrieking goo on the pool deck, she clasped her hands together, looked toward the sky, and said, "Please God, give me patience to deal with this child."

It happened so quickly that I was in shock. One minute, a sunny day, a swim lesson, a grandmotherly person. In my memory I can hear birds. See clouds. Admire the green of the trees lining the river. The next minute, my heart is pounding and I'm running to the side of the pool (she requested that parents stay away from the pool during lessons - warning!), this old lady is sarcastically praying, and my son is a mess. Ten years later, my feelings can still race from from serene to murderous just thinking about that day.

Needless to say, one "lesson" was all we took from her. But over the years I've been raising kids, I've seen more than one Miss B - nurses who are impatient, doctors who want preschoolers to "man up" and not be scared of shots, teachers who think the best way to learn is to sit down, shut up, and finish that work sheet. I've always wondered why these people wanted to work with children in the first place.

They seem especially crazy (and mean) when you run into professionals who really "get" working with kids.  Since the Miss B episode, our family has been fortunate to experience many gifted professionals who put the kids first. One first grade teacher I especially loved would simply open the door to her classroom, which was next to the playground, and shoo the kids outside when the wiggles got to be too much. A quick 10-minute expenditure of energy and the kids could resume the day's schedule with appropriate focus. Imagine that. Letting kids play. I also fondly remember an upper-GI specialist singing "drink chugalug, chugalug, chugalug" in order to help my son down the nasty drink that would provide contrast to the x-ray he was having of his throat and esophagus. There are good eggs out there.

So we've experienced bad, and we've experience good. But my kids are neurotypical and can bounce back from the bad (as long as it is an isolated incident) without losing a lot of traction. We still talk about how crazy Miss B was, but the following summer, my son willingly took swim lessons and ended up being a wonderful swimmer.

Parents of kids with autism can't be guaranteed of such a benign outcome. A bad run-in with a doctor may mean it is almost impossible to get the kid in the door the next time - a dire situation when a broken bone, cut hand or other medical emergency requires quick action. An impatient dentist could mean saying bye-bye to dental care for years. It takes a PhD in empathy on top of whatever other professional degree the person has to provide care or instruction to kids who live on the edge of fight or flight.

An Atlanta mom, who has a son with an autism diagnosis, has experienced her fair share of knuckleheaded doctors. Fortunately, she found an angel of a dentist, whose approach to working with  children with special needs should be taught in medical, dental, nursing, education, any school that is turning out professionals who will work with people. Here is her blog posting explaining what makes a good health professional for kids with special needs. She also has an example of a bad doctor visit a few entries earlier. Compare and contrast, if you will.

So for the Miss Bs, the bad doctors, the grumpy teachers, I say, find something else to do. You're doing more harm than good. But for those good ones, well, I hope you know how special you are.


1 comment:

  1. I had to laugh, Amy, because you're exactly right. There are some people who choose to work with children and we just ask ourselves, "Why?!" Please, God, give me patience to not slap these people silly.

    ((Thank you)) for the linky love.