You unlock this door with the key of imagination. – The Twilight Zone
On a Wednesday night, my son tucked himself next to me on our brown leather sofa. He stretched his long legs onto the ottoman, crossing them and then wiggling his toes.
“Mom, sometimes when I’m at school I feel like I’m in the twilight zone,” he says to me.
My heart giggles because I can barely recall episodes of the Twilight Zone from my childhood. There are gray, vague memories of it when my family sat down to watch a re-run episode. A rare occurrence because I grew-up, yes, with color TV. However, I do remember the music: a whirling and high-pitched electric piano sound. I think?
How does my son even know about a twilight zone? Alas, I continue to listen as he unravels his thinking.
“Mom, it’s like a feeling I get every day. I start my day in the twilight zone. You know – everything seems pretty cool. Right?” says my son.
I nod my head in agreement. “Go on,” I say to him.
“And my mornings are great. I get all of my work done. And I am speed racer through time. You know – moving through the twilight zone. And then, after lunch, I don’t know what happens. It is like Lord Vader comes into my brain and I can’t think anymore. I can’t listen. I can’t do anything.” echos my son.
“That sounds really frustrating, Buddy,” I respond. Still with a giggle inside my heart, I continue to listen. I truly want to hear more about Lord Vader seeping into his brilliant mind.
“Yea, mom. It is. I don’t know what to do, because my brain just can’t think anymore. And I just can’t do anything right.”
And, I pause. The giggles in my heart stop. I take a breath, and then I say, “what do you mean, Buddy?”
My son begins his explanation: “You know, Mom. I can’t listen. I can’t do my work. I can’t stay laser focused like I am supposed to. I sometimes have to sit in the hallway to do my works. And even then, I still can’t get much done because my brain is in the dark.”
Yes, I do know. I know all too well the struggles of a child who can’t seem to fit into the molds of traditional schools. I know the grief of parents who don’t understand why their son or daughter can’t sit through an entire class period of learning. I hear the frustration and sadness in the meetings I have with families who don’t understand why their child can’t learn. I recognize the story … however, I don’t own this story.
But, I can’t tell my son this. Instead, I have to be a parent and ask questions. I need to be the person to help my son understand his own strengths and weaknesses in life. And, so, my response to my son begins something like this …
“Buddy, you are you. You are brilliant at solving puzzles and doing your math problems. You think of things that I could never even imagine – it is impressive. You are my biggest helper at home when it is chore day. Seriously, you scrub those toilets and mop our floors like no one else. And, you’re such a good reader. Your sister loves when you read to her at night. …”
Interrupted by the frustration in my son’s voice, “Yea, but Mom, I can’t learn and think anymore. Seriously, I want to be in the twilight zone after lunch.”
“You can, Buddy. You just have to find out how.” I responded.
That how is the burning question of so many teachers, parents, and administrators alike. There truly is no “one” how to connect with a child, especially a child on the spectrum. For my son, it is about asking him questions about how he likes to learn. He will tell anyone that he likes to learn with something in hand (i.e. a fidget). He will say that he likes the room to be quiet – especially when he is doing his reading. He will adamantly say that he likes his daily schedule (i.e. his routine at school).
And, he learns just like he is supposed to. He explores his world by asking questions … lots of them. Sometimes he asks more questions than my mind can possibly keep up with. He often needs to build something in order to make sense of it or to think about it. I will often find him building a castle out of rocks from his grandparent’s garden trim or a Lego super-charged dump truck. He does this because it helps him to think … to process … to understand the world around him.
The next part of my conversation is to practice with my son about how he will share his learning style with his teacher. We practice and we practice. My son says things like, “I think I need a break after my lunch so that I can calm down,” and, “when it gets really loud in class, I need to put on my headphones so I can focus,” and “it helps me if I can have something in my hand to help me think.” Honestly, I can do all of this for him. I can make the phone call and send the email and have the meeting and … for him. However, what will my son learn if he never has to practice having a conversation with someone about his own strengths and weaknesses? About his twilight zone and Lord Vader moments? And what message does that send to my son?
So, I wait until I know conversation with his teacher has started, and then I check-in. The easiest way to check-in with a teacher is to send them a short email; something like this: Just checking in to see if my son talked to you today about his learning style. I know how much you enjoy getting to know your students from your students. Would you mind letting me know what you learned from his conversation? I am trying to coach him at home to be an advocate for his needs. Thanks for all you do!
So, a few things have happened here:
- Self-advocacy was learned and practiced.
- Person-person conversation occurred.
- A stronger teacher-student relationship emerged.
I encourage any parent to help their child with this process when they notice a slithering Lord Vader entering their child’s mind during the school day. Or, for any purpose, really. Truly, we are all learners of our own twilight zones and Lord Vader moments. It is how we respond in these moments that really counts. And, it is how we encourage our children to respond that will move them forward into this journey of life.
And as we snuggled on the couch that Wednesday night, I asked my final question of my son: “So, I’ve never been to the twilight zone. Tell me about it.”
“Well, it is the place where my mind is laser-sharp like a light-saber, and I can see everything so perfectly and it is colorful …”
Photo of Northern Lights over Urris, County Donegal, Ireland, Adam Rory Porter
Twilight Zone: The Movie