“Mom, I worked hard today!” Wil shouted as he threw the car door open and took a seat right behind me. The school day had just ended. Elizabeth slid into the passenger seat and Katherine jumped in next to Wil.
“No way, Wil, not three days in a row.” I said.
“Nope, not possible.”
“Put it here, buddy. I’m proud of you.” I raised my hand over the front seat and Wil met it with a strong high-five. “Katherine, did you work hard today?”
“Hmm, sort of.” She gave Wil a sideways smile.
“What!” I rolled my eyes in mock disdain.
“Giiirl,” Wil pointed to her, “you work hard!”
“Elizabeth, did you work hard today?” I asked.
“I did, but I could have worked harder.”
“Darn straight!” Wil yelled out.
“Wil learned that from Ms. Kastel in a game they were playing.” Elizabeth said. “I think she changed one of the words.” We shared a smile.
Ms. Kastel was Wil’s 7th and now 8th grade social studies teacher. 7th grade was a particularly trying time for Wil, with a change in schools and an uptick in puberty. Ms. Kastel was cognizant of this and continually worked to find ways to connect with Wil. When she discovered Wil’s love for country music, she introduced him to one of her favorites, Johnny Cash. She bought the two matching t-shirts which Wil wears proudly. Wil also loves Pringles, so he and Ms. Kastel share a Pringles cheer for a job well done in class. Not surprisingly, social studies is now one of his favorite subjects.
On our drive home, Elizabeth filled me in on her day. Katherine added commentary on their shared classes. Wil listened to both of his sisters, then hollered out, “Mac ‘n’ cheese, Mom!”
“Mac ‘n’ cheese? You had it for lunch?”
“No, made mac ‘n’ cheese.” Wil mimicked stirring a pot. “With Victoria and Anna. My Connect friends.” (Connect friends are typically-developing juniors and seniors who are paired with students who have special needs.)
Oftentimes, Wil doesn’t offer much after school. He’s generally open at bedtime, when the house is quiet and there is time and space to share his thoughts. It can be challenging to create space between his sisters’ words on the drive home. We will often ask Wil questions to create the space for him. Though we typically get a “hmph” and shrug of the shoulders in reply.
When Wil stepped into the car that day, he threw the door wide open to his school experiences. I never know when or how a breakthrough in communication will arrive, but I know it when I hear it. On this day what busted down the gates was a build-up of three straight days of working hard, making mac ‘n’ cheese with Connect friends, a darn straight awesome social studies teacher, and hard-working (even if they tease they don’t), loving sisters who naturally show Wil how to create his own space. And that’s exactly what he did.