I just signed my twins up for a pre-k gymnastics class. My boys love to tumble, and I thought this would be the perfect activity for them.
Before making a decision about which “gym” to attend, I did a little research. I went to my local autism support group on Facebook and asked for their recommendations.
As usual, they knew all the best sensory friendly, special needs classes in the area. The classes sounded perfect for my boys. But those classes were almost an hour away. (sigh)
So I started thinking… Why do my kids need a sensory friendly class? They’re four. They like to run, jump, and tumble. The classes can’t be that structured… right?
But, I felt nervous. I never want to put my kids in an uncomfortable situation where they don’t feel welcome… where the adults aren’t supportive. Their emotional health is very important to me.
I contacted the company. I explained to them our special circumstances. One of my boys has a speech delay, and the other one is completely nonverbal with an autism diagnosis.
The gym immediately wrote me back. They would love to have my boys in their class! And they would appreciate any input I could give them to help make it a successful experience for them.
Why was I so worried? Of course a small business would want 2 more paying customers on their roster. The class is already geared toward 4 year olds. And I have yet to meet a normal one of those!
Dammit! I still felt uneasy. Even after talking to the gym and my kids’ ABA therapists, I was still nervous.
So I did some soul searching. I ran through the class in my head. I envisioned the worst case scenario… one of my kids running around doing his own thing, and the other one screaming bloody murder because his sock fell off.
And then I reminded myself that I had back-up. I had myself, and two highly capable therapists with me to assist however they are needed. And I’m usually surprised at how well the twins do in new situations.
Then it hit me. I was worried about how the other moms would react. They paid for this class, too. They didn’t sign up for a special needs class.
They signed up to sip their Starbucks and watch their future olympians learn all about the balance beam and parallel bars.
Hey, I get it! When my oldest son started soccer at 3 years old, it was effortless. I would show up with my camera, and take pictures while he dribbled the ball and scored all the goals. It was precious.
But my kids and all of our therapists are about to crash their party. Most of these parents are about to have a shock to their systems.
Some of them won’t even begin to comprehend what’s actually going on… how much work is involved… and why we would even bother to do it all.
And these parents are gonna stare. I’m not talking about a fleeting glance – I’m not that sensitive.
I’m referring to the stare parents do when their mouths hang slightly open because they forgot to swallow. The stare I can actually feel burning a whole in the back of my neck. That’s the one that bothers me.
So, if you’re a parent of “normal” children, and you see a family like mine joining your activity, please try to keep these things in mind:
1. I’m the same type of parent you are. I just have to work harder.
We’re both trying be the best possible parent for our children. We’re both trying to give them opportunities to grow and learn. Only, I can’t sit on the sidelines and watch. My kids need more support. So that’s what I give them. You would do the same thing in my position.
2. If you’re going to stare, you could at least smile.
I know you’re not doing it on purpose. I’m sure I’ve even done it plenty of times. It’s shocking and intriguing to see families who do things differently than your own family.
But it doesn’t feel good to have other parents gawking at my family when we’re out in public. So if you’re going to stare, you could at least smile. You could even say “Hi.” That would be great!
3. Your children are watching you.
You are your child’s biggest role model. They watch your actions and your reactions. If you’re accepting, your children will be accepting. And if you’re uncomfortable… you get the idea.
When you see a family like mine, take the opportunity to start a dialogue. Your child might have questions, and that’s okay! I’m more than happy to answer them.
I’m trying to be the best parent I can be, just like you are. My children are living in a world that isn’t always sensory friendly. Just like your children are living in a world with people who are different than them. Hopefully this class will be beneficial for all of us. ❤