When I was a child there was a television cartoon called “Super Friends” that included a brother and sister team called the “Wonder Twins.” I used to love when the Wonder Twins would each press a fist against the other’s fist and say “Wonder Twin powers, activate!” That act would unleash their superhero powers and help them solve the challenge of the day.
“Superhero powers. That’s what E has,” I think. Like the Wonder Twins he is different from everyone else around him. Not better. Not worse. Just different. His own unique being with gifts and talents – yes, superpowers – that are his alone.
I’m pondering this today as a result of a conversation yesterday with E’s kindergarten teacher, Ms. R.
Only a couple of weeks into the school year she’s already reached out to me several times to talk about how E is doing, both the challenges and the successes. I’m so grateful for her diligence in communicating with me regularly – it shows me that she is truly committed to his success and values my role as a parent in the process.
The most recent call was yesterday, and the topic was E’s unwillingness or inability (or both) to sit in circle time.
As she outlined the challenge for me on the phone, I ask her, “Can you describe circle time for me? I understand what it is, but can you describe how you do it in your classroom?”
Ms. R replies cheerfully, “Oh sure! It’s a fun time of day because the kids all get to sit on the floor in a circle and I read them stories and ask them questions, or sometimes we do flash cards.”
“Do the children sit right next to each other,” I ask, “where they are virtually touching a classmate on either side of them?”
“Some do, yes,” she replies.
“Okay, and I presume they all have to sit still for circle time and look at you during the story or while doing flash cards?” I ask.
“Yes, most of the time,” she says. “But E doesn’t even want to come over to circle time at all. We tried the first few days but now he stays at his desk and draws while I do circle time. And I just am not sure how to encourage him to join the class.”
I can hear the longing in her voice to learn what to do, to find a way she can help. It is coming from a place of genuine care for my son, I can tell. A lump forms in my throat.
Deep breath. Don’t cry, Susan. It’s just circle time. We can figure this out.
“I’m new to this, too, Ms. R,” I say. “E was diagnosed less than a year ago, and we are still trying to find our way. I don’t know that I have the answer for you, but I can tell you why I think he is struggling with circle time.”
“That would be so helpful,” she answers warmly, “then maybe we can figure out a solution together.”
I continue: “There are a few things you mentioned about circle time that I think could be causing anxiety in him. First, he struggles with physical contact, so if the children sitting next to him are touching him in any way, even just lightly, his immediate reaction is going to be to try to get away from that. That problem is exacerbated when we’re talking about kids that he doesn’t really know – I mean, I’m his Mom and at 5 years old he still hasn’t been able to give me a proper hug. He does these backward hugs to, according to his therapist, minimize the physical contact.”
“Oh wow,” Ms. R replies, “I never would have thought of that.”
“Plus, you’ve probably noticed that he’s not the best about sitting still unless he’s focused on a preferred activity, like drawing or building with Legos,” I add. “So needing to sit still on the floor for a non-preferred activity is sort of like ‘strike two’ for circle time.”
“Yes,” she says, “I’ve been having to keep a close eye on him because he does move around a lot and he tends to wander. I’ve started closing the classroom door at times so he doesn’t just walk out of the room.”
“Oh gosh, I’m sorry about that,” I grimace. “We are working on that in his therapy but it’s going to take some time, I think. Speaking of his therapy, another thing we are working on is eye contact. And that is perhaps ‘strike three’ for him for circle time."
Continuing, I say, "You mentioned the kids have to look at you during circle time, and that is something that he is not able to do consistently right now. You’ve probably seen him do this already, but if he makes eye contact at all he will glance at you quickly and then look away. More often, though, he will look another direction or out of the side of his eyes, not forward.”
“Yes, I’ve noticed that,” Ms. R replies. “This is so helpful. It really helps me understand why he might be struggling. Maybe we can come up with some ways to adjust things a bit so that he can join in circle time. For example, what if I put the bean bag chair near the circle, but not in it, and he can sit in that for now? That would eliminate the physical touching aspect, at least. Do you think that would help?”
“Oh yes!” I say. “He loves bean bag chairs! I bet he’d love that, and it would be a good place to start both to help with the physical contact issue, but also to help him sit still. If he’s comfortable and sort of “cocooned” in the bean bag chair, he will likely sit still for a longer period.”
“Great! Let’s start with that, then,” she says with excitement. I feel like she’s nearly as excited as I am about finding a potential solution, and the lump returns to my throat.
“Thank you, Ms. R,” I choke out. “It means so much to me that you want to find ways to help him.”
“No thanks needed,” she replies softly, “but you’re welcome. It’s what I’m here to do. I love these kids, and I’ll do whatever I can to make sure each one succeeds here. It’s really important to me.”
I know she means it.
As I think back over that conversation from yesterday, a memory about the Wonder Twins jumps out at me in a new way: To activate their superpowers, the twins must touch fists. Physical contact is necessary for their full power to be unleashed.
A renewed resolve overtakes me. E doesn’t like physical touch, but he needs it. We all do. And it’s my job to show him the best versions of physical touch: a mother’s tender touch after a fall, a hug that speaks love, bedtime kisses that tell him he’s safe. It’s all in my DNA as a gift to him.
Maybe I am his Wonder Twin. With each touch, hug or kiss I can help him unleash his superpowers.
For every day that God gives us together, I will do just that.
Wonder Twin Powers, activate.