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Why the Teacher's Note About My Child's Body Painting During Art Class Makes Me Proud

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As parents of kids with disabilities we can walk a fine line between what offends us and what we can breathe and walk away from. Being an advocate for our children can be hard. Sometimes I feels as if I’m always the one who has to determine what my child needs and then fight for it daily. Today was one of those days.

Maybe I’m becoming too emotional as my daughter’s 6th birthday approaches. Maybe I’m feeling sensitive to those who don’t see what she’s accomplishing every day as a huge feat to be celebrated and not punished. Maybe I’m just tired.

My daughter is 5 years old. She’s in a typical kindergarten class with very little help despite having autism, ADHD, sensory processing disorder and anxiety. She has come a long way in five short years, a long way. A child whose communication could not be understood now talks nonstop. A child who could not walk into a seafood restaurant without gagging or sit through a meal in any restaurant for more than a few minutes can now go out and enjoy being with her family. A child who could not touch anything like whipped topping, pudding, shaving cream or similar textures without vomiting now finds them soothing and calms her anxiety at times.

I’m very proud of her. She amazes me with her strength and resilience. So, when people don’t seem to see what I see, I can get upset.

When the note came home from school, specifically from one of her teachers, my immediate response was a smile. I was proud of the mountains she’s climbed. Then came the anger — not towards my little girl, but towards the teacher who stopped her from doing what took her years to be able to do.

The note was a simple communication from the teacher. It stated my daughter had difficulty with using materials as instructed during art class. My first thought was perhaps it involved scissors as they can present a difficulty at times. Then I read the teacher’s comment: “…your child rubbed the oil pastel all over her hands and arms.” I wondered how the teacher reacted to my little girl. Was she angry with her? Did she punish her in any way?

My daughter said she was told to wash her arms and hands and the paint was taken away. I sat and thought about what this could mean for my daughter. I tried to picture what the teacher saw. Could she have seen a child who was not listening or being disruptive on purpose? Maybe she thought my daughter wasn’t paying attention again in class — something I feel some teachers might consider a willful choice she makes not taking into account her lack of impulse control. Was this frustrating for the teacher? I thought about explaining again about my daughter and her quirks.

I wanted to write a sarcastic note to the teacher like, “My husband and I are so happy she enjoyed herself in your class.” Or maybe, “If you only knew how many years we waited for her to allow things like markers, pens or even food upon her body without gagging, screaming and vomiting — we are so proud of her.” You see, she still can have a panic attack if her clothing becomes messy or wet and she cannot remove them as soon as possible.

I like oil pastels. They are fun to draw with and to blend with your fingers. I imagine the soft material was intriguing to my little girl as oil pastels are different in texture from a regular crayon. I will be buying paints and oil pastels for my daughter to use over the weekend.

I believe the little things that happen can either destroy a child’s creativity and love of something or encourage it. When my daughter asked at bedtime if I was angry at her, I was startled and sad. I asked her, “What for?” She said for getting the “paint” on her hands and arms. I told her no, I’m glad she had so much fun and the teacher didn’t know how much she enjoyed it.

Why has today’s society become so rigid? What happened to children having fun in school and watching their personalities and creativity blossom? Even if my daughter did not have the challenges she has, I feel I would still be all right with her expressing her artistic freedom. My daughter has invisible disabilities, and I fear teachers who might break her spirit.

I understand teachers have not been with her over the years. They don’t know about the mountains she has climbed and the milestones she has crushed. That’s why I only signed my name at the bottom of the note and sent it back to school.

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Originally published: March 27, 2017
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