“He likes to look at shiny things and that’s why we keep catching him looking at doorknobs all the time at school.”
That comment came from a well-meaning early childhood educator who retired two years after my son was done at her nursery school. She’s been running her preschool for over 30 years and was pretty confident that she knew what she saw. She had accepted him into her nursery school “even though he was different and non-verbal” because like any child he deserved to be in preschool and learn. She kept saying that you had to be careful around him going down the stairs because anything shiny like and door knobs entranced him.
A year after my Johnny was done with nursery school and was in his junior year of kindergarten, we met a very experienced speech pathologist who was used to working with Autistic children and she noticed him looking at shiny doorknobs. I quickly told her that I keep being told that he has a thing for shiny things and he gets obsessed with doorknobs. She turned and said, “is it a bad thing? Why do they make you think that’s bad? Have you gone and tried to sit at his level and take a look at what he’s looking at? Have any of the early childhood education educators , kindergarten teachers, other speech pathologist and psychologists actually gone down to his level and looked from his point of view and see what is so fascinating? Is it just because the doorknobs are shiny, they turn, and open up into a new place?
I got down on my knees and I looked at what Johnny’s been peering at so intently and that’s when it hits me. My eyes are finally opened wide and I can finally say that I truly understand he sees the world very differently than other children and that is not a bad thing. As I gazed at the doorknob I saw the reflection of his beautiful smiling face but now there’s a reflection of Mommy. No wonder he was happily fixated on it just like a newborn baby likes to gaze at itself in the mirror.
When I turned and looked at Johnny’s face he grabbed me and gave me a kiss on the arm because he now knew Mommy understood. It never ever so simple with Johnny and I should have known. He has lived in the details since he was a tiny baby noticing what everyone else misses.
How can any psychologist, paediatrician, family doctor, teacher, occupational therapist, early childhood educator, speech pathologist and psychologist expect Johnny to try and do all the hard work they ask him to when they won’t even get down on their knees and try to see the world from his perspective? Why should he bother to try when his viewpoint is ignored, under assessed, undervalued, and misconstrued.
Instead in report after report or in meeting after meeting I heard this:
- doesn’t look us in the eye
- doesn’t smile
- doesn’t want to point
- is reluctant to join in
- goes off and does his own thing
- on his own agenda
Two of things that I have learned is:
1) I should always try to endeavour to see the world as Johnny sees it before I make any assumptions
2) That the simplest conclusion is usually wrong and if I look a little closer its always a more nuanced complicated reason why he is doing what he is doing.
Its never just “he’s obsessed with things that are shiny.”