It has been a while. I have been reluctant to post anything given the current environment. I did not want to sound like a complainer. The last eleven months have impacted so many people in so many different ways. And while I have tried to focus on the treasures during this period, like more family dinners and more downtime, the length and weight of it all has been pretty heavy at times.
Our son has been in school, in person, just FOURTEEN days since March of 2020. When at home, our guy typically lasts about half a day before he becomes so frustrated and overwhelmed that he literally mentally and physically collapses, wraps his entire body tightly in a blanket and goes to sleep. At the start, I had grandiose ideas of tutoring our boy during the down times and attacking house projects that been dormant the last year (ok, maybe more like 5-10 years). But the reality is that the situation has meant that I have been tethered to the house, specifically at the top of the stairs outside of my son's bedroom. This is the spot that allows me to monitor his virtual learning as well as provide help when needed. I share that all to say....I regularly find myself disappointed by my own lack of progress on all things that are outside of this weird virtual school world.
Overall, though, it has been an education for me. I have witnessed my son's strengths and weaknesses, as well as learn about the peers he interacts with. From that perspective, it has been enlightening - - both good and bad. What I can say is that his teacher has not missed one day of school since last March and deserves to be elevated to sainthood. I have a new appreciation for the level of patience that these professionals need to have - most especially in a virtual environment - and I can say with certainty that the adults in front of my son prefer to be IN the classroom. In terms of the platform, I have been amazed at how flatfooted we all were with respect to technology. I have lost count the number of times we missed class due to a technology issues. For a kid that needs consistency, that aspect has not been fun - to sit for class, only to see your teacher repeatedly freeze or to be kicked off, or not permitted in the classroom has been wildly frustrating. In addition, the virtual setting seems to amplify everything - sounds, mannerisms, behaviors - which, at times, creates such anxiety and distress for our boy that he can no longer participate. It has led to some pretty interesting discussions and behaviors. So, let's talk palm trees...
We have had a lot of conversations about this tree. So much so that my husband has googled "how to grow a palm tree in Pennsylvania" more times then anyone should admit. Our television viewing currently revolves around scenery that includes palm trees. Our book reading follows up with the question "are there palm trees there?", and every school reward for completing a task includes viewing palm trees. All of our guy's teachers have asked if we are traveling to - California, Australia, Florida - all locations that our son has expressed interest in...because they have palm trees. I would consider this to all be very humorous if it didn't add to the "groundhog day" feeling that COVID is already very good at, but it also comes from a sad place for our boy. He wants to leave this place. This house. The boy, who typically finds more comfort being alone without all of the social pressures from the outside world...really really wants to be freed. He wants to see his friends. He wants to be at school. He wants interaction. And therein lies the symbolism. The palm tree represents expansion beyond his confinement. The palm tree, from our guy's perspective, represents the end of the "sick" (as he calls it).
Basically, like all of us, our guy is just done with it all, but understanding it is confusing; it is difficult for neurotypical adults, so how is our son processing it all? More importantly, how can we help him? COVID has created so many limitations.
Our current method? We indulge the palm tree fascination. We talk about it with him. We provide materials so he can make them. We print computer images of them. We read about them. And, yes, we will buy one. The palm tree makes him happy. On some level the pandemic has given us insight to another side of our son that we have never seen before- that he craves human interaction. And that is a positive revelation in my view. The palm tree also has shown us that he is trying to process a very difficult situation. He is trying, minus the explosive behaviors that we have seen in the past. It is different, but not wrong in our view. Truthfully, wouldn't it be nice if we all used pleasant imagery to process difficult themes in our life? Perhaps this represents another life lesson that can be learned from our boy.
And, for that, COVID, you get one positive in your column.
About the Author: Mom of two fabulous children, one of whom is learning to adapt to life with Autism and Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome , Kelly helps employers support those in their workforce who are caretakers to a special needs individual. She enjoys sharing her journey as she navigates life as a caretaker herself.