Eleven years ago, when my son Link was in kindergarten, he was in a class so large it required a teacher’s aide. His name was Mr. A. For us Mr. A was a godsend, because he had a special place in his heart for my son who was mostly non-verbal and often lost in his own imagination. Years later we’d diagnose the inattentive type ADHD and Auditory Processing Disorders that made Link so different from his classmates. At the time I was just glad to know that there was someone at school who thought Link was wonderful, who took time to tell me little stories about things that Link did. His teacher was worried about Link, but Mr. A saw Link as amazing and interesting. We were glad when Mr. A became the PE teacher and then was Link’s fifth grade teacher. Fifth grade was a good year. Not all of the elementary years were good.
There were a string of teachers in elementary school. One for each school year. They variously saw my child as stubborn, lazy, genius-level smart, frustrating, and a dozen other things. Sometimes I liked seeing what they saw. Other times I wished they could see what I saw. As the baby-cuteness vanished and teen gawkiness arrived, Link turned more inward. He was less willing to be vulnerable in public. This is true of most teens, but in Link’s case it meant that the vast majority of adults in his life saw him as an enigma. Often they liked him, mostly he fit in and learned exactly like all the other kids, but then he would hit some road block that was huge to him and invisible to everyone else. Then he would shut down, draw inward. The teachers didn’t know how to reach in and he didn’t feel safe enough to reach out. “How can I help Link?” they would ask. I didn’t have good answers to give, because he was a different person for them than for me. He was different at school than he was at home. I made a bridge of myself to make sure that he had a way across the educational gaps.
In junior high we had Mr. H. He was the resource teacher who held Link’s IEP file. He watched out for Link and liked him. Link liked Mr. H too. Sometimes Mr. H got to glimpse who Link was when he felt relaxed and happy. Mr. H wanted very much to help Link, so sometimes he helped too much. He took away opportunities to struggle and learn. We were grateful, because there was far too much struggling, but I also knew that Mr. H saw Link as a person who struggled and needed help.
High school hit hard. Link struggled. There was no Mr. H to see the struggles building and to whisk some of them away before things got too much. There was no Mr. A to remind Link that he’s amazing. I searched for an on-campus mentor, someone that Link could turn to when things felt hard. But all the people moved so fast, they were so busy with so many students. Taking any of their time felt like an imposition. Link felt it too.
Two weeks ago I sat across the desk from a woman at Vocational Rehabilitation. She told me that it is her job to take teens with disabilities and help transition them into independent adulthood. Two days ago Link and I sat in her office while she talked to him about his application. I watched this woman watching my son. She sees him as a bright prospect. She sees a person whose challenges exist, but are fairly easy to surmount. She sees a worthwhile person who has a lot to give to the world. She is prepared to mentor him as he becomes who he wants to be. I want to just hang out in her office and soak up the way she sees him and I want him to soak it up too.
Finding someone who sees Link this way is such a relief. I need to remember to tell other mothers the good things I see in their children.