To Understand

Today, our first day back from break, we had an inservice. Usually we teachers dread inservice days because, very often, they’re not very helpful, to be honest. I was looking forward to our inservice today, on a Monday, the first day back after two weeks, because Olivia’s and my friend, Chloe, was presenting to our staff about her journey with autism. I knew she would be great…but I was so impressed by her outstanding presentation. Everyone was very impressed. Most of us were choking back tears…mostly tears of pride, honestly. Here was this young woman, who clearly has had struggles in school due to her autism, speaking so eloquently and confidently in front of a room full of teachers. She was amazing.

For me, I was very emotional because it felt like she was putting into words what Olivia must feel every single day. I always say I’d love to get inside Olivia’s head, just to see what she’s thinking and feeling when she can’t express it, which is often, and today I felt like I got a glimpse into what she must feel. It was overwhelming. To hear Chloe talk about what it’s like to be “stuck” (when she gets stuck on a topic and can’t let it go), what’s it like when she gets overstimulated, what it’s like for her brain to try and handle everything all at once, was awesome for me…and made me feel upset. I know Olivia struggles, but to hear what it feels like and how difficult it is just to handle everything that’s thrown at her in a day, made me…sad for Olivia. I know she doesn’t know any different, and for her it’s just her normal, but for me, as her mother, it was difficult to hear. But I’m so very glad I heard Chloe talk because I feel like I understand my daughter even better now. And I can’t thank Chloe enough for that insight.

Chloe’s talk also gave all of us as educators wonderful insight into how we can help students like Olivia and Chloe succeed in school. I think, just as Chloe said, education is the key. Teaching everyone, teachers, students, friends, family, about differences and helping that learn that different doesn’t mean bad, is the key to helping people with disabilities succeed. As Chloe said in her presentation, different isn’t less…it’s just different. She said it perfectly.

One part of Chloe’s speech focused on how communication between school and home is super important. I know it is for me. But Chloe explained it from her perspective, which felt like Olivia’s perspective, and it really made me understand even more why this is so important. Chloe told how she would get in her Mom’s car after school and have a total meltdown and, without communication from school, Chloe’s Mom would be at a loss as to what was the matter. Because she was so upset, Chloe wasn’t able to express verbally what was wrong. This happens so often at our house that it really hit home. Olivia and I both need it. We need more than “it was a good day” or “she seemed tired today”. We also need positive, not just negative, information. It’s vital. Sometimes I feel like I ask for too much from school, and Chloe helped me understand that it is as important as I think it is.

Throughout the whole presentation, I was so proud of Chloe. She was so brave to stand up there and tell us all what it’s really like to be her. What she struggles with, what it feels like, what works for her, everything. She was so honest and eloquent and heartfelt and funny. She was wonderful.

Just like I knew she would be.

If you are interested in more information about Chloe, visit her website here. It’s worth it!

Thank you, Chloe, for giving me insight into what Olivia feels inside each day. You were incredible!

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