This is Dar’s first week in third grade. His new teacher is very nice. She asked Dar to come to the classroom on the day before school started, and so I brought him. Did it help his adjustment? Who knows. He also has a new aide who seems capable and professional.

This is the beginning of Dar’s fifth (!) year at his current school, Thousand Oaks. How much has he learned in the previous four years? Well, he’s learned a few things. I hate the thought that he might have done better elsewhere. I hate the thought that we’re somehow putting Dar’s education on cruise control.

During this special pre-school year visit, Ms. C explained to me that every week she features a “star student” for the class. I thought: okay, right, I understand, it’s fine with me if we do not do this for Dar. She continued that normally the student shares some of their favorite things, by writing about them and/or bringing some of them to class. I thought: ah, now I get her. She will expect Dar to be one of her “star students” but I’ll need to help. I told her I would help. Ms. C replied that she when she has a student with an IEP, she likes that student to be her first “star student.” I thought: oh God. Okay. Fine. In a month. Ms. C asked if we could do it this week. ! ! ! ! ! !

I’m crazy busy right now with various things that I may or may not blog about in the future, but somehow I carve out the time for this. Yesterday Ms. C sent home Dar’s backpack inside a much larger backpack. Wifey’s mind was blown, I think she assumed there had been a crazy mistake. I explained that I was supposed to bring Dar’s favorite toys. Of course she and I both know that his favorite toys are outdoor hoses, handheld shower heads, and faucets…anything that sprays water. Oh, he also likes pouring sand down our outdoor slide. Either way, not exactly the kind of stuff one brings to show and tell. I wind up bringing some books and toys.

I arrive today with no notice; Ms. C nonetheless seems overjoyed to see me. Maybe that’s just a third grade thing. I hang with Dar and his brand-new aide for maybe five minutes while the kids wrap up some kind of work. Ms. C introduces me with Dar. But Dar wants to be in the corner, and I don’t push him. I take a chair as Ms. C tells the kids to gather around me.

It’s funny, I’ve known most of these kids on-and-off for three years now, but I’ve never really talked to them about Dar. A few of the more inquisitive ones have approached me, but I’ve never given them all a Dar Briefing. Today I do that. Today I present the following page, more or less. Ms. C had had me fill it out; she didn’t tell me to tell it to the kids, but I figure, what the heck.

I’m not sure I’ve ever addressed a rug full of twenty seven-year-olds. Funny, but it’s not all that different from addressing seven twenty-year-olds. Or thirty twenty-year-olds. In other words, just another day at work. Make eye contact, stay on point, smile, talk with passion without sounding rehearsed. Although I gotta say, I wish I could get my college students’ hands to go up this often. Until today, I would have said I wished I could get my students to talkthis often. My students don’t do great with open-ended questions. Dar’s classmates, on the other hand, are great at askingopen-ended questions.

“What is autism?”

“It’s a condition that means Dar’s brain doesn’t work the way most kids’ brains do.”

“Why does Dar have a cut on his nose?”

“I wish I knew. I wish we could ask him and he could tell us.”

“Don’t kids with autism…isn’t there something wrong with their faces? Like you can tell from their faces?”

“I don’t know, Nico, if you didn’t know Dar, would you be able to tell from his face?…Did you mean Down’s Syndrome?” (Nico: “OH yeah, that’s what I meant.”)

“Why does Dar take off his shoes sometimes?”

“Well, he’d like to take off more than that…” (A girl goes “ew,” which makes me laugh. I continue,) “…did you know that in some countries, like Japan, people take their shoes off every time they come inside?” (Ms. C seems to love this one.)

“So wait, Dar doesn’t know you’re his daddy?”

“Uh, it’s hard to say.” (Keep smiling, I tell myself.)

“Why does Dar sometimes pull hair?”

“He likes hair, so we need to work together to gently steer him away from hair.”

“I saw Dar walk up to some kids and just take their hand…”

“Yes, so, same thing. As it happens, he also does that at Starbucks…”

“I saw you and Dar at Starbucks!”

“Great!”

“I know another kid with autism but, he talks.”

“Great.”

At some point during this Socratic dialogue, Ms. C interjects “But the point is that Dar’s family loves him.”

Uh, was that my point?

I reach into the backpack for the toys and books. The kids want the stuff. They pass these minor items around like they’re gold. Ah, to be seven again. I leave them everything. Why not? Dar won’t care.

I figure it all went fine. Maybe it’s good to start the year off by getting everyone on the same page.

It’s just not a page I ever knew I’d be on, myself.

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