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A Letter To The Lady Who Presumed My Son Had ADHD, Autism 'Or Something'

I wasn't going to write you a letter. My gut told me to let it go and move on. Your attitude towards us at the class that we trialled for my five-year-old Son last week hit me hard and it stuck with me for a few days. It left me upset, angry and confused at why a grown woman like yourself with two children of your own, in a role that should have meant that I could trust you, could be so downright brusque and ignorant.

Let me start by telling you something.. See, I was not a confident child in the slightest. I was always socially anxious and I never really allowed myself to give any sort of after school classes a chance - the pure thought of them filled me with dread. And as an adult, I'm much the same. Social situations often fill me with anxiety and sometimes even panic. But I'm a Mum to two now and one my of my biggest wants in Motherhood is to nurture the confidence that I see in my two little boy - a confidence I never saw in myself. And so whilst the idea of walking in to a new place that I've never been before full of people who all already know each other might fill me with a certain unease, taking my little boy to an after-school class that could hopefully help to nurture and expand on that confidence of his on many levels is always going to be more important than my own personal apprehensions.

On arrival at your class, a friendly male instructor introduced you to myself and my little boy. He'd noticed us walk through the door a little timidly. He introduced you to us - a second instructor of the group. He said you'd stay at the back of the class and look after Ethan just so that he didn't feel too overwhelmed during his first session of Taekwondo. He said as it was our first time there, that we could just watch or join in a bit if we wanted to. So when he left us to teach the rest of the class, I didn't really expect for you to turn around to Ethan straight away and ask him what he wanted to learn first.

I explained to you that neither of us really knew much about Taekwando, that we'd come along just to get an idea of what it was about and to see if it was something that Ethan would be interested in doing. Instead of standing with the rest of the group, or watching them to see what sorts of things they were doing, you took my Son off separately with your own two much older children. It was at this point that you asked Ethan the same question again - what did he want to learn first - like he was supposed to know. And it was at this point that I first felt that twinge of frustration at you - how could you not see that he was just five, that he'd not been before and that he didn't have a clue what sorts of moves there were to learn?!

Regardless of this, I nervously laughed it off. You got your son to show Ethan a move and I'll be honest I was quite surprised when I saw it. It seemed far too advanced for a first trial session and for a five-year-old. Who after seeing what you expected him to copy went from being full of excitement for his first ever class of something just for him (without his little brother) to looking quite sheepish and quiet. But bless him, he tried his best to follow you as you slowed it down for him. I know my Son well and I can tell when he's giving his best and right then he was and for that I was stood there feeling very proud of him, despite the fact that he was struggling to always get it right and wasn't always catching everything you asked him to do as his interest sometimes wandered towards what the main group were doing.

It occurred to me at that moment, that Ethan was probably much like me with his coordination. You see, even at 30 years old, if someone asks me to stick my right arm out and left leg forward, then the opposite then back again, I'll need a little think about it and often will do it the wrong way around. I tried dancing at school when I was younger once and I loved the idea of it, but could I follow the moves? Could I hell!

I didn't give it or myself a chance at the time, but all I really needed was practice and it was clear that that was all that Ethan needed too. After all, we were less than 10 minutes into his first ever lesson. I could see that and I thought, as an experienced instructor, you'd be able to see it too. But your face said otherwise and you seemed to be becoming impatient. It was at this point that I jumped up to join in to help Ethan feel at ease. I laughed with him telling him about my own lack of coordination and we tried to follow you together.  He didn't get it much and that was okay because at the beginning of his first ever day with you, I never expected him to.

What happened next was something I completely hadn't expected from you - you came and stood next to me whilst Ethan was off walking following the lines along the gym floor and in a very impatient, abrupt tone of voice you asked if Ethan had ADHD or Autism 'or something'. You said it in such a way that it actually took me a few seconds to register and then when I answered to say no you replied rather matter of factly saying 'He's just a hyperactive child then is he?!'.

When you saw how uncomfortable you'd made us feel and after I'd told you how inappropriate I thought you were being you told me that you had only asked as you had 'the experience' and 'know that some parents feel too ashamed to say'. It was at this point that I couldn't hear anymore from you and so I called my Son over, got his shoes on and with tears in my eyes I ushered him out of the door as you shouted 'I hope we didn't offend you' as the door closed behind us.

I won't lie, I spent the next two days feeling so upset and angry at you. I'd bought my son to you so that you could help build his confidence up, not try to tear it down when you realised he wouldn't be as quick to learn as you might have liked. I also felt upset at myself as I was the one who took Ethan along to your class, I was the one who put him in front of you, I was the one who rushed him out of the door without any explanation other than 'she wasn't very nice and we don't spend our time with unkind people'. I was so worried the whole thing had knocked his confidence. I was also worried that I'd never want to take him along to another class through fear of someone else being so impatient with him.

But it's been a few days now and you know what? We're already booked into another class, one that actually really does sound kid friendly with a mix of martial arts, gymnastics, games, warm-ups and more. You advertised yourselves as child-friendly but the reality is is that you're not. Firstly, you shouldn't expect so much out of a five-year-old beginner who's only just heard of the word 'taekwondo' and secondly, if you do want to teach five-year-old's then you need to have patience. You need to be warm and welcoming and understand that children learn at all different paces. That they are all uniquely different and that that is what makes them special.

You should know that it's not your questions that offended me (My son is not on the autistic spectrum but I would feel no less proud of him if he were), but rather that you felt the need to try to make out that because your teaching methods weren't working after just ten minutes that it must be something to do with my Son rather than yourself. It was also totally inappropriate of you, after spending 10 minutes with him, to presume something about him that it takes a Doctor months (years even) to diagnose, especially at such a young age.

Your manner of asking was not sensitive, it was not kind, if it had been you would not have been forthright in adding 'or something' to the end of your question and then going on to suggest that he must just be hyperactive then or that if he had been on the spectrum that this is something I might have felt ashamed of. Why (especially for the fact that we'd just met each other) would you even feel that it was okay to suggest that if my little boy had had Autism or ADHD that I might feel ashamed of him? You mentioned 'experience' but you actually seemed to know nothing about either
of these conditions, you were rather totally insensitive and if I'm honest - quite ignorant.

My Mum teaches children with both ADHD and Autism at her school and a few years back I had the pleasure of going in with her for the day to help out. And you know what? I may not know too much about ADHD or Autism but what I can tell you, is that the children I met that day at the school my Mum teaches at were some of the kindest, most funny, most welcoming, most warm little people I've ever met and I'd rather spend my time in their company, than with somebody like you. Because do you know what? It's not things like ADHD or Autism that people need to feel ashamed about in our society, it's people with rude, impatient and ignorant attitudes like yours.

I put in a complaint about you and I hope you learn from this. I hope you never again make small children or anyone else feel the way you made us feel. We all make mistakes, we all get it wrong sometimes, but a little patience and kindness can go a long way - especially so when you're working with children.



4 comments

  1. I'm really glad you told her she was being offensive and that you put in a complaint. She sounds like she might be in the wrong job! Hope the next class is a thousand times better!

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  2. What is wrong with her?? That is such an offence. I would have told her straight to be honest. I am not the most outgoing person when it comes to people that I don't know but people offending my child I come out of my shell, that's for sure. Good on you moving onto a different class with more kid friendly activities. That is a disgrace. I'd say it's also because she has older kids and feels like she is so experienced. Can I ask are they girls by any chance?
    Boys are supposed to hyperactive. It's their age. What is she expecting him to do like? Sit here and wait to be taught? That's something a 10 or 11 year old would do but not a 5 year old. Absolute joke. xx

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  3. I’m so sorry this happened to you both but we’ll done for standing up for your son, I hope the next class you try is better.

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  4. Hi Alex. I'm sorry you had to go through that. How thoughtless and insensitive of that woman to cast her judgement. She clearly knows nothing about autism and ADHD, nor how to talk to people in the first place! I think it's great that you have shared your experience through your blog as I'm sure a lot of people will be able to identify with this. You have also highlighted an awareness for people who may not know how upsetting such comments can be to others.

    I have a son who probably will have some sort of ASD diagnosis in the future although we are currently awaiting input from pediatric support. Thankfully, even though his behaviour can sometimes be a bit disruptive, we haven't had any inappropriate comments from other people, but I normally just explain to people anyway to save them putting their foot in it.

    I'm glad you've been able to move on from your experience and I hope the next class is more suited to Ethan. He is lucky to have a mum like you to fight his cause and I'm sure he will grow up a happy and confident boy

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