Monday, November 10, 2014

Thank You Baldwin Bulldogs, class of 2020

The Mighty is an online group of writers who are trying to make the world a better place. You can find them online at www.themighty.com or you can find them on Facebook. They have published a couple of my blog posts before and the editor asked me to consider participating in their November Thank you challenge. The challenge is to choose someone to write about that I do not say “Thank you” to often enough. This is almost an overwhelming task. How could I possibly choose just one person, or even one group of people, who I am thankful for? I could probably write Thank You notes for a year and not remember everyone that I need to thank. But, this is supposed to be one thank you and it did not take me long at all to decide what I wanted to write about.

My son Tate has autism. He is 13 and in the seventh grade. Tate performs at a grade level far below his peers, academically and socially. I could and should write thank you notes often, to each and every one of the teachers and staff involved in Tate’s individualized education. I definitely do not say it enough. Today however, I am going to say “Thank you” to the seventh grade class at Baldwin City Junior High School.

There are advantages to living in a small town sometimes. Tate will graduate with a class of approximately one hundred students. Tate began kindergarten with about twenty of them. He had the same kids in his class through third grade. Living in a small town, and Tate being the sixth of seven children, produced opportunities for us that many families of a special needs child would not have. I knew all the teachers and many of the parents and students. I was often in the classroom and able to educate Tate’s classmates about autism and Tate’s differences. I wanted “full disclosure” and often asked that the privacy policy be ignored. I talked openly about Tate’s disability and urged teachers to do the same. 

Tate in kindergarten
From the very beginning Tate's peers have treated him with respect and kindness. His classmates could see he needed help with many things and there were always lots of willing helpers available. At the end of their first grade year I thanked the children for being such good friends to Tate and asked them to promise they would help look out for Tate all the way through High School. They agreed, and they have kept their promise thus far.

For five years Tate has had a lunch buddy program so that he can receive social instruction from an adult coach while surrounded by peers. In elementary school, students had a chance to sign-up to be a part of it with their parents’ permission. There was always a waiting list and never a lack of enthusiasm for eating lunch with Tate. The program has evolved somewhat. Now, part of the week Tate sits at a table with peers and no adult. Other days he invites a friend or two to eat with him and a teacher at a smaller table so he can work on social skills. Rarely does a student ask for a “rain check.” If Tate calls, they answer the calling!

A fifth grade track meet
So many children with special needs have to worry about bullies. So many children with special needs are lonely or forgotten. Tate has never been bullied, not even once, that I am aware of; and many of his peers call him “friend” although Tate does not often reciprocate their kindnesses. Tate’s understanding of social skills and reciprocity is greatly lacking. His peers know it and they accept it. They give, asking nothing in return. They include Tate whenever possible. They gently give him social skills instruction when it is needed. They help him with tasks that are difficult for him. They teach him and encourage him. They make him feel like one of “the guys.” It does not matter that he comes in last in all the races. I’ve heard them cheer as if he’s crossed the finish line in record time! It doesn’t matter that he is still reading picture books while they read novels. It does not matter if his presentation is short and very simple compared to theirs. They are excited to see Tate’s achievements even when they are very small.


Buddies: Jordan, Tate, and Ethan
Tate's classmates treat him as a valued member of their class, an equal. For this, I thank them. I thank these students for being kind to Tate and for making his life easier. I thank these students for making my life easier. I do not have to worry or wonder about Tate while he is at school because he has friends who look out for him. Thank You Baldwin Bulldogs, class of 2020.

Note: The letter I wrote for The Mighty caught the attention of People Magazine and that led to an interview and a great article published by Jeff Truesdell. You can read that here: A Lesson In Kindness

Teachers, Share this with your classes. Challenge them to make a difference in the lives of their classmates with special needs. Want to read more? Teaching Tate Social Reciprocity

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4 comments:

  1. My daughters class one year was so wonderful that I held a pizza party for them! This year in middle school seems like interacting in hallways with 3 grade has had it problems!

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  2. This is both exceptionally wonderful and heartening, and should be required reading for teachers and students everywhere. So glad for Tate!

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    Replies
    1. What a wonderful thing to say. Thank you. It seems this post is reaching a lot of teachers so possibly a lot of lunch buddy programs will be initiated as people become more aware of the idea.

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