Summer is a great time to reset. Especially if you don’t see students, it’s an opportunity to recharge, maybe do some reorganization, maybe take some time to think about changes you’d like to make in the upcoming school year. But it’s also a great time to recalibrate your scale of “typical development.”
I have my own children, now teens, so I feel like I have a good handle on what expectations are like at each grade from personal experience. And I have time during my day/year to talk to teachers so I usually know what’s going on in the classroom and where my speech/language kiddos are struggling.
Then along comes summer and I’m spending more time driving groups of kids around or seeing groups of kids in social situations or hanging out with nieces and nephews. I start experiencing how brilliant all these kids are, way above what one would expect at that age, and then I realize I need to recalibrate my expectations scale.
We have our standardized testing which is helpful and obviously necessary, but it often fails to capture the spontaneity of language and communication. It doesn’t capture age appropriate slang or humor and how could it possibly since it changes constantly. Kiddos that have made great strides with me and are testing in the normal range are cause for celebration, but when I see their peers in action, I can’t help but think I’m throwing some of them back to the wolves.
I’m not suggesting we keep kids in therapy indefinitely, and I don’t think trying to modify the environment (or listeners) is always the most practical choice (check out what one developmental pediatrician is doing to open doors for kids with autism). In fact, other than being aware of what lies outside our doors, I’m not entirely certain what changes I’m going to make myself.
What I will say is, it’s worth getting out there and seeing what “our” kiddos are up against. At a family party? Hang with the little ones for a while. Offer to babysit for a friend or neighbor. Help at a camp or coach a sports team. Eavesdrop and observe at the beach or pool or mall (in a non-creepy way).
When I hear kids talking about someone who’s weird, I’m quick to step in and guide it as a teachable moment. But if you want to be truly enlightened, let it go, at least for the time being. Without judging ask “why is he/she weird?” When they realize you aren’t there to lecture, but are simply curious, you’ll get answers you didn’t expect. The kinds of answers that will change the direction and scope of some of your goals.
I’ve been astounded at how astute kids are at picking out the pragmatic behaviors that are outside the norm and their priorities are sometimes different. Peers might tolerate fidgeting or blurting out inappropriate comments especially if they are funny (though teachers would go bonkers with either) but have a real issue with how close someone stands in line, how someone interrupts an obviously private conversation or unusual prosody. Even some of the suggestions we make for classroom modifications can unintentionally turn a spotlight on a child and signal them as different.
Do I think educating others to be more tolerant is critical? Of course. But I also believe in practical, efficient therapy. Tolerance is something that happens with lots of education over time. My kiddos can’t wait for that. They need to work within their peer group now which means compromise from both parties.
What about you? Are you ever shocked by the number of precocious kids out there? Are those “normal peers” something you give a lot of thought to?