These Little Things

It’s Buddy’s last week in public school. On Monday he starts a program specifically for children with autism. And after today, I’m thinking it’s coming not a moment too soon. And the matter is so small it should be inconsequential, but it isn’t.

I want to encourage Buddy’s independence as much as possible. He’s five. Sissy is not yet 2 and I still have to take care of a lot of things for her, such as dressing her. Buddy can dress himself. One of the things that drives me crazy about the school dress codes is that if I give him a shirt with Jack Skellington or Olaf on it, he will get in his shirt, pants and shoes in five minutes flat. But if I give him a plain polo shirt that the school requires, even in his favorite color, it’s more of a pulling teeth experience to get him to dress himself. But he’s five, he’s able to do it, so I find ways to coax him into it (usually if I set them out at breakfast he’ll put them on as part of a routine, but then there are days when he doesn’t).

I’ve always had an issue with school uniforms. Way to promote conformity and stifle individuality! But as a parent, I find them even more irksome because it is so much easier to get Buddy to dress himself when he really wants to wear what I set out.

The second part of this is that Buddy does not care if his clothes are on backwards. Well, he cares if his shirts that have characters he likes on them are on backwards. He will turn those around himself. Not the polos. He will even button them up in the back.

One thing I firmly believe as a parent is that you have to choose your battles. Running in the street? Yes, that’s a battle I will fight. Even though Buddy does not want to, I make him hold my hand when we are in a parking lot or crossing the street. That is a battle I will fight. Wearing his shirt forward? Not so much. He’s not hurting himself. He’s not hurting anyone else. The person it affects most is him. I know some people worry about teasing, but given my own experience with being bullied, bullies will use ANY excuse to bully another child. If they aren’t going to bully him for his clothes, they’ll bully him for the strange way he talks. If not that, then they might bully him because he’s biracial. Buddy is NOT responsible for the bullies’ behavior. The parent of that bully or the teacher has a responsibility to tell that kid that bullying is not okay and to knock it off. In my mind, use it as a learning opportunity for kids to promote tolerance. Some kids like their shirts forwards, others backwards, but it really doesn’t matter.

If I try to coax Buddy into turning his shirt around he gets upset. Trust me, we’re quickly on the road to a tantrum if I push the issue. To me, it’s not worth the battle. He dressed himself, which is what I wanted. Him dressing himself makes my life easier. Me fighting with him over which way his shirt is facing does not. I’d much rather spend time having positive interactions with him than arguing with him over something that is of no consequence to anyone!

The school has sent notes commenting several times that they had him turn his shirt the right way and he didn’t protest with them. This does not surprise me too much. Like a lot of kids with autism, it takes Buddy a while to be comfortable telling people what he wants. In strange places he’s less likely to protest stuff that he will at home, where he feels more secure and comfortable (and unlike a lot of kids with autism he rarely tantrums in public). So he’s more likely to protest something with me than he is his teacher in a place that is not as comfortable for him.

Today they sent a note saying he needs to come to school with his shirt facing forward. Of course, they pointed out that he doesn’t protest with them so it shouldn’t be an issue at home.

Fine. Come live my life for one day. Come see what battles you’ll fight then. Just dismiss my experiences with my son, who I live with every day. Come, tell me I’m doing it all wrong. Come, tell me I should create a power struggle over something so small and insignificant as a matter of which direction his shirt is facing. Come, tell me I should fight with him over that as opposed to spending that time doing something we enjoy together because, for whatever reason, it is so vitally important that his shirt faces the right way.

It bugs me because it is such a small matter. He’s five. No one is going to be harmed if his shirt is facing the wrong way. And this is just a beautiful example in my mind of how school policies can just make life at home that much more miserable for parents and kids who have disabilities, or even kids who do not, and are more focused on appearances than actually creating environments that are kid friendly and conducive to learning. My mom fought this battle with my sister. Though my sister is not autistic, she has sensory processing issues and as a child especially was extremely sensitive to touch. The seams on her clothes were extremely painful for her as a result, and she preferred to wear her pjs and her clothes inside out. My mom had to fight with the school for this to be allowed. But how they would expect a 6 year old to learn anything when she is in physical pain because of the seams on her clothes is beyond me. If a kid learns best wearing pajamas, why is it such a battle to get the schools to let them learn in pajamas?

And for the record, my sister now wears regular clothes and outgrew a lot of her sensitivities. And she’s now getting her Ph.D., is well adjusted, and lives independently. This is not mollycoddling and spoiling. This is about schools having rules that are not realistic for children. This is about promoting policies that make them kid friendly and creating environments that are conducive to learning. For small kids, this means being comfortable. To me, this means focusing less on what our kids are wearing and more on what they are doing.

And no, I am not going to pick a battle with Buddy over this. As of now I’m just repeating the mantra, “two more days, two more day.”


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