Our six-year-old son kicked a girl in his summer school class last week. One of the teachers was trying to figure out with me what might have happened.
She offered a theory, “I know boys are big on super hero characters. I wonder if sometimes they play out those behaviors they are seeing?”
As she was talking I recalled our son had left the house in an Avengers t-shirt that morning. Basically 90% of his ensembles are Avengers related. It was clear to me she was likely not a fan of the genre. It also made me wonder how often does some Disney princess get blamed for a cat fight?
“Have you seen the Avengers or shows like that?” I asked.
“Not really,” she said.
“Listen, no self-respecting super hero would kick anybody” I told her, “I’m no Fan Boy but I can’t think of any character that uses kicking as a super power.”
“I see,” she said.
When my husband and I sat down with our son later that day he admitted he kicked the girl. He told us she had done something that made him feel “like a baby.” Further, he didn’t feel bad about kicking her.
My husband and I don’t condone kicking — or biting, hitting or scratching for that matter. The reality is six year olds do those things.
Our son has let us know before that he doesn’t like being treated like a baby. Our son has Down Syndrome. Communication has not been easy for him. He is also small for his age. All of which has resulted in people of all ages treating him like he is much younger than he truly is.
Often, we know our son is upset, but getting the information takes time — for a few reasons. T’s speech approximations are off, so figuring out words can be difficult. We also use an augmented communication program that helps us with pictures and sound to find things out together. “Baby” is a frequent go-to word for him to tell the whole story, and being treated like a baby is one of his biggest frustrations in life.
I have reprimanded childcare workers for holding our son on their laps. It’s always shocking to them that it would bother me — even though T is not asking for this special attention and the other kids in class aren’t treated the same way. You know: because he is so cute and small and has DS.
Upon meeting someone new they invariably ask me his age or name, not him. I then turn to him and say, “What’s your name?” Obviously I am trying to show them the appropriate thing to do is ask him themselves.
Our son is sort of a wiseacre. He usually looks up at me and says, “What’s my name?”
“Very funny. You know your name.”
“No,” he says.
On occasion the stranger interjects, “That’s okay if he doesn’t know.”
And somehow I look like the bad one badgering my kid with Down Syndrome who doesn’t even know his own name? Really people? Our twelve-year-old incontinent mini-Dachshund Coco knows her name.
We attended a birthday party for one of T’s school friends. Between the girl whose birthday it was and her hovering mother wanting to help our son with every move, I finally lost it. I yelled across cake, punch, balloons and ten six-year-old children, “He knows how to do that!”
The silence was deafening. My husband leaned in and whispered, “That’s not party talk.”
I have been guilty of underestimating our son as well. He has stopped me on more than one occasion to show me: he can turn on the TV and navigate Netflix (Thankfully, I still get to help my 81-year-old mother find ‘Cheers’.); he can help me on walks with the dogs by taking Coco’s leash; he can clean his room; he can put away groceries; he can pick out his own clothes. This last one is particularly hard for me because he only wants to wear wind pants and over-sized t-shirts ala Tony Soprano.
In spite of all these assumptions, our son doesn’t trade on his challenges. He wants to be treated like everyone else.
People assume if you cannot be understood you cannot understand. Our son understands only too well how much of the world sees him. It makes him feel like a baby. And it makes him mad.
For my husband and me, we wish the world could see our son as we do: bright, kind, curious, funny, feisty and perfect.
About Kari Wagner-Peck
Kari Wagner-Peck has a master’s degree in social work. Her career path includes: clinical work with survivors of abuse, advocacy and public education. She finds parenting to be a funny, trying and rewarding adventure. She believes disability is a natural part of life not to be feared or pitied but accepted. She and her husband and son live with two rescue dogs. She has been with Empowering Parents 1-on-1 Coaching since 2013. You can follow her at atypicalson.com and on Twitter @atypicalson.