Turn It Up!
When my son hit the scene he came in with a bang and blew my heart wide open. My beautiful gift of a spirited and idiosyncratic kid that never slept, never wanted to leave my side, recited stats and facts, and interrupted his way heartily into conversation was on his way to a path that looked rather different than that of the “other kids” in his playgroup and his classroom. Nothing felt “easy” for him. He learned his way into new situations and often was anxiety-riddled and confused by what he found.
There were days of holding and rocking him in the garage to reprogram his brain to believe that the garage door coming down within his line of vision would not mean he would literally die. There were meltdowns that lasted for hours if one of the boxcars from his Thomas the Train set was moved from the tracks. There were episodes of screaming when we drove by orange cones that lined construction sites because they told his brain he was not safe and something bad was on the horizon. His little sister would pull her thumb from her mouth and reassure him from her car seat,
You be ok, brother. You be ok.”
He cried easily as defeat after defeat seemed to puncture childhood hard and early. As he grew older these “differences” became even more pronounced. He did not learn in a way that was celebrated in a traditional school system. Instead his spirit was being broken in school where learning differences were viewed as problems, often criticized and belittled, leaving him feeling empty and lost.
If there is one thing I think we all have in common it is the need to belong. There was no “belonging” for my little guy. He was tired, weary, and broken. After missing over sixty days of school to darkness and despair, he interviewed to attend a different kind of school. He bravely explained to the principal that his school had social classes and he was at the bottom, and he “wasn’t a good enough person.” There was no light or hope behind his big, brown eyes.
Amidst the nerves and fears of big changes, he bravely stepped foot onto ground that surpassed anything I could have imagined. His new school, appropriately named “New Way,” was more than a second chance for him; it was the beginning of him discovering who he was, who he lost, and who he was destined to be. New Way did not take away what made it hard for him to learn. His Aspergers, an autism spectrum disorder, and ADHD did not leave the scene. Instead his teachers reawakened in him the belief that his way of learning was worthy, even valuable enough to make important contributions to the world. Understanding my child as an individual who was “different not less” (as Temple Grandin best said it) and embracing his differences were the beginnings of a profound leap that propelled us to where the extraordinary resides. His teachers accessed the soul space that made him “tick.” He felt welcomed. He felt wanted. With that trust he could learn again.
Vulnerability and truth became beautiful pathways to learning, not sources of shame. As his abilities expressed “here is what is hard for me,” the response was not only “let’s try it this way,” but also, “what do you think might work for you?” The learning was actually occurring on both sides of the table. Perhaps people with learning differences are actually teachers and ambassadors of truth. There is less space between any veneer they can build and what is on their minds and in their hearts.
Over the years, I have watched as a head that was bowed down looking at his feet, trying not to be noticed, with little pigpen messes following him wherever he went, only seeing life through his own narrow lens grow into a young man with a strut of his own, a passion for music, and a smile and zest for life that cannot be contained. Little by little he started to believe he was indeed the treasure God already knew he was.
Different not less.
At 18 this awesome dude is studying Worship Arts with an emphasis in Music and Digital Media at Grand Canyon University, blazing his own trail. For all those years of my yelling “turn it down” to his complex system of wires and electronic musical equipment, I will unabashedly be the first one to yell “turn it up, kiddo” at his graduation.
This wonderful post was written by New Way Alumni parent Melissa Pullon, mother to this incredible child; we are so grateful that she and New Way Academy shared this story with us.