10 Sep Your child’s right to choose happiness
Recently, I worked with a 9-year-old student who has high-functioning autism (I had his parent’s permission to share this story). I always say that my students are my greatest teachers; this session was a prime example.
This child, let’s call him Tommy, told me about some of his fears. After working with him on the concept of emotions for several weeks, to help him understand and learn to articulate his feelings better, Tommy said that he is afraid of zombies. Sometimes, he can’t fall asleep at night because he starts thinking about all of the possible bad things that can happen, and fear takes over.
I always try to practice positivity and replace any negative thoughts with happier ones that serve me better, so this was a great opportunity to teach him something that I personally experience—although not with zombies per se.
I recommended the following solution. “Tommy, when you start to think about zombies and scary things, try replacing those thoughts with something that makes you feel happier. Instead, why don’t you think about beautiful fairies with magical and sparkly wings?” I thought this was such a great suggestion, since I find thinking about fairies calming, and it makes me happy.
Well, I was in for a surprise and valuable lesson!
Tommy looked at me inquisitively, and seemed to choose his words very carefully. It was almost as if he didn’t want to hurt my feelings, (which I was so proud of him for, because we had been working on this skill also).
He said, “Ms. Jen? Umm. Well, my happy place is more like a big guy wearing baggy pants and a Hawaiian shirt.”
We both roared and couldn’t stop laughing. Here I was, thinking that fairies would undeniably take anyone to their happy place. My sweet student, who loves being silly and cracks up watching funny videos on YouTube, showed me otherwise.
The moral of the story for Ms. Jen?
How narrow-minded of me to presume that Tommy had the same happy place as me. I may know a lot. I may have tons of experience working with and assisting children with autism, but I certainly do not get to choose the “happy place” for each of my students.
Every child has something that makes him happy, and deserves the freedom to choose his own happiness. Parents, caregivers, and professionals have to make many choices for their children or students with autism, but we also need to sit back and allow them the honor and human privilege of finding and cherishing what makes them happy.
I have now added a new cheery image to my repertoire of positive thoughts. Every time I think of someone in baggy pants with a Hawaiian shirt, it takes me to a very happy, fun place… I am sitting in the living room with this child who just taught me one of life’s biggest lessons.
We all have the right to choose our own happy place.