Grief Journal: Not Your Typical Kid

I’m writing this from the comfort of my socially distant, shelter at home office, in the middle of the COVID19 epidemic. My husband is downstairs with our daughter, working on her school work. I have to confess, one of my first thoughts when we learned we would be facilitating distance learning at home with the kids was, “Charlie would have hated this.”

I read a lot of articles about kids that aren’t neurotypical, and relate so much to the parents. Parenting a neuro atypical kid is HARD. It’s right there in the description; their brains don’t work the same way as most people’s do. It’s not that they won’t do certain things, it’s that they literally can not. 

Charlie’s executive function was far behind most of his peers’. That means he had trouble organizing and completing tasks. It was a struggle to listen or pay attention. He couldn’t multitask. He didn’t always understand social cues or act in an appropriate way. He really had trouble controlling emotions and impulses. He lived always in the now. 

For all of his inherent sweetness of character, and despite how easy he was to love, he was a difficult kid to parent or teach (we used to say he was “Charliening”). It took time and energy and willpower and relentless attention and scrupulous consistency—because he was genius-level smart and would pounce on weakness like a lion on a wounded antelope. 

All the many positive things I’ve written about him are true. He was a shining light in this world. But there was darkness, too.  He could throw tantrums that were, quite honestly, terrifying. He would say or do things that could frighten or offend other adults or other kids. 

Getting him to do school work remotely would have been nearly impossible. You could not make Charlie do anything. I learned early on to carefully choose my battles and the hills I was willing to die on. It had to be really worth it.

Schoolwork would not have been worth it. My youngest is a pleaser; ultimately, she enjoys that schoolwork is special time with her Poppy. My oldest has figured out the minimum he needs to do to stay on the right side of the current pass/fail set up (and more power to him). But Charlie? Oh, the battles. It would have been more important to keep him happy, positive and safe, and come up with other learning opportunities, like reading, crafts or even computer games.

So cut parents some slack right now, particularly parents of neuro atypical kids. Keeping kids safe and engaged—and their brains and bodies growing so their brains can catch up—is a lot more important than any math worksheet.

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