True story about Sadie:

by Jody Simpson, PhD (comments: 0)

Sadie’s adoptive parents, school principal, kindergarten teacher, and the team of special education professionals are having a meeting regarding Sadie’s potential special education needs.  Sadie has a diagnosis of Autism and, after having Sadie in the classroom for the past 3 months, her teacher is a little confused because she doesn’t fit the mold of a child with autism.   Her teacher gently asked the question, “when was Sadie diagnosed and what was she like at that age?”  Sadie’s parents told her story:  Sadie’s very early childhood history was not completely known, but she had been placed in multiple foster homes, and was adopted at age 4 even though she lived with her adoptive family for a year prior to finalizing the adoption.  Sadie’s symptoms of autism didn’t really show up until she was 4 when the family attended family gatherings.  Sadie’s adoptive family is a big, boisterous family, with numerous extended family and cousins who are close to Sadie’s age.  At family gatherings, Sadie would retreat to her bedroom and prefer to be alone rather than playing outside with her young relatives.  She actively resisted being with the other people, would cry if her parents made her interact, and she often rocked while she cried.  Sadie loved books, and her preferred activity was to look at books in her room while other family members played games, ate dinner, and shared stories with one another.  Her parent’s loved her very much and wanted the best for her.  They did not consider that she might be autistic until a relative commented that she was so withdrawn from social contact, and, especially concerning was that Sadie began rocking as she cried when she was pushed to interact socially.  Preferring to stay in her room to look at books rather than playing with other kids was abnormal, and the parents should take her to a doctor!  The parents described the symptoms of social isolation, rejecting opportunities to be involved in family events, preferring to be alone in her room, and obsession with books, to her doctor.  The doctor diagnosed her with a high functioning form of Autism based on the symptomology.  The parents added, The doctor told us “Autism is common in children with traumatic early childhoods and we can expect her to have delays in language, difficulty interacting with peers, probable learning problems, and whe will always need special education.”  Until this moment, Sadie’s teacher perceived Sadie as being a very normal 6 year old student who is highly motivated to learn, likes to read and look at books, soft spoken in groups, she gets along with all peers, and has a couple of favorite friends.  Taking a risk, Sadie’s teacher described her perception of Sadie.  Her parents reacted with delighted surprise, saying, “that’s how she is at home too! We always thought, ‘that’s just our Sadie’.  Do you think she might not be Autistic?”

Hats off to the teacher!  It takes a lot of bravery to speak up for looking at wellness rather than looking for illness.  Unfortunately, we are not taught to value the skill of observing wellness.  The teacher may have felt as though not noticing the illness meant she was uneducated about Autism.  Or perhaps she might have doubted her own perceptual and observational skills.  She would have remained quiet because of her fear of looking uninformed.  While the teacher should not declare a misdiagnosis (she isn’t a licensed medical professional), she is well within her rights to describe the behavior she observes within her role as Sadie’s teacher.  Contemplate for a moment, how will Sadie’s life be different if her parents believe she is not effected with Autism?  How will her school life be different if she is allowed to enjoy her desire to read quietly rather than be highly sociable, seek increased activity with peers, and if she is not labeled as introverted?  How might Sadie’s life be different if she is viewed as “normal” within her own set of motivational drives?

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