Last week I attended the Keystone State Reading Association annual conference and had the privilege of hearing author, Jonathan Friesen, speak. He told about his tumultuous youth dealing with Tourettes and epilepsy. He asked the audience of teachers, when thinking about their students, to consider the questions that run through children’s minds: Do you see me? Do you like what you see?
His personal story was riddled with bullying. I connected what he was describing to some of the social issues I worry that my son with Asperger’s faces. Friesen’s tribulations were quite severe. However, all children who are “different” face bullying at some level during their schooling. Often by peers; sadly, sometimes by teachers. R. J. Palacio’s Wonder is a perfect picture of what any child can face. My son is both prone and sensitive to bullying.
Luckily for us, my son “has been seen” by more peers and teachers than not. In pre-school he was seen by his teacher as a reader and by his peers as someone would would read to them whenever they asked. In Kindergarten, he was seen by his teacher as being capable of going to school without an aide; his classmates saw him as a kind friend. In first grade, his teacher saw his giftedness for numeracy. His friends saw him as a helper. In second grade, his teacher continued to recognize his math skills and the students in first grade saw him as their tutor.
I don’t always worry about if others like what they see, because I believe in not always seeking others’ approval. We won’t always receive it, regardless of how worthy we are of it, or how hard we work to earn it. But being seen is priceless. As a result of being seen so early, my son has succeeded in attending math class with students a year older than himself. There is no bullying, despite the gaps in social skills, because these students have been guided by a sensitive teacher to see his positives over his quirks. I have met students who, upon learning he is my son, comment, “I know him. He’s so smart.” It’s not being called smart that is the key. It’s that they know him and see him for how he has been gifted.
I thank all of the people in my son’s life who have taken the time to see that he is worth being seen. Who can you “see” and let know you see them, in your life?