In the past, I have apologized to clerks for Simon’s voice being too loud in the grocery store. I have apologized to Simon’s teachers, when he speaks his mind in a literal way that they find offensive. I have apologized for Simon plowing into the walls in his Sunday school classes. I have apologized for Simon not looking at people who are speaking to him, because they think he’s ignoring them. I have apologized to parents on the playground when Simon pushed their kids over.
I had even taken to apologizing to third parties – “Sorry we can’t make it, but it will be too over-stimulating for Simon”.
As my view of Simon’s diagnoses (SPD, Aspergers) have evolved – from “must find a cure” to “must learn to cope” to “must celebrate who he is” – so too has my tendency to apologize for him. Because at some point I decided – this is who he is. What message am I sending to him, when all he hears is his own mother perpetually apologizing for who he is.
Any parent who finds themselves apologizing to this degree for a child, will find that it slowly, insidiously undermines your spirit. And left unchecked, it will surely undermine your child’s as well.
In practice, it isn’t as easy as you might think to get through the day without apologizing for your child’s differences. It becomes habitual, second-nature, a way to show the world that you’re not ignoring your child’s odd behaviours, that you’re not one of “those” parents who really doesn’t bother much with parenting at all. But there are much more meaningful ways to show the world you are a competent parent. Without compromising your child’s self-esteem, or your own. With a little forethought and commitment, you too can quit your addiction to The Apology.
Let’s take the examples I offered:
Instead of: apologizing to the clerk for your child’s voice being too loud in the grocery store...
Try: using a visual signal with your child to encourage them to lower their volume, and smile at the clerk as you say something charming and witty like “He gets those lungs from my mother-in-law”.
Instead of: apologizing to teachers when your child speaks their mind in a literal way that they find offensive...
Try: explaining to teachers that your child’s neurology makes their thoughts linear and literal. When they say the activity is boring, they are expressing their own true feelings because they have been taught to tell the truth. Assure teachers that, over the coming years, your child will learn (with gentle reminders about how words make others feel) to start filtering their thoughts. Until then, explain that disciplining your child for their neurology will only damage their sense of self-worth, and impede their ability to learn in the classroom.
Instead of: apologizing when your child plows into the walls in his Sunday school classes (or music classes, or karate classes, or)...
Try: providing a book (like Hartley’s – shameless plug) to those who work with your child, that easily and quickly explains why kids with SPD don’t just enjoy smashing into things – they need to smash into things. Use the book as an opportunity to open a discussion about what alternatives would work in the specific situation and space. Can they place a beanbag in the space for your child to jump into? A small ball-pit? Provide more frequent movement breaks? Allow them to stand to do activities where kids would normally be seated? Or maybe even (*GASP*) allow them to smash into the walls? Make a plan for accommodations everywhere your child spends their time on a regular basis, not just at school. Investing in a foundation of understanding for your child takes more time, but is infinitely more rewarding than resorting to last-minute apologies.
Instead of: apologizing for your child not looking at people when they’re speaking…
Try: offering a brief explanation (even to the lady at the grocery store – anyone who’ll listen) that many kids with sensory issues can only efficiently process one kind of input at a time – and that your child is more able to effectively listen to what they are saying when they aren’t making eye contact.
Instead of: apologizing to parents on the playground when your child pushes their kids over…
Try: ok, well, I would still apologize in this situation – because we all know that when our child get’s hurt by someone, we expect an apology first. But follow it up with a quick explanation that your child has a neurological disorder called SPD, which makes it extremely difficult for them to feel when they are pushing too hard.
And finally, instead of: apologizing for missing a gathering because it will overstimulate your child…
Try: going out on a limb and talking to friends and family about your child’s needs; about your desire to participate, and what your child would need in order to be included. Ask if they are able to make a few changes, to accommodate your child’s differences. You may be surprised how willing people are to help, when they are empowered with information.
So what does love mean? Obviously, it means never having to say you’re sorry.
Welcome to Normal
Welcome to Normal