When Meira Barnea Goldberg wrote her post about her son she had no idea that her Facebook page would get tens of enthusiastic replies. Mrs. Goldberg is Avishai’s mother. Avishai has autism and Mrs. Goldberg describes how she has to deal with a society that fails to integrate her autistic son into it.
“How did I know it was time to go visit the school and speak to the whole school staff about autism even though it seemed that Avishai had no problems in school? It was when I spoke to his teacher and asked her if the teachers and staff were aware that Avishai has autism? And she answered yes we are aware but it's very easy to forget because he's such an amazing boy!”
“It was then I understood that something is wrong. You can't forget that my son is autistic. I wanted to give a lecture that no teacher would ever forget. I wanted them to remember how I spoke and how I sometimes had to hold back from bursting into tears and that they should remember every word I said.”
The answer the teacher gave Mrs. Goldberg triggered her decision to give a 200 minute lecture on integrating autistic children into regular schools.
Mrs. Goldberg gave a lecture to the whole school staff and teachers and without noticing that the hours passed. “Even when I finished nobody wanted to get up and right after the lecture I started getting tons of telephone calls from teachers that want to continue the conversation privately”. Mrs. Goldberg relates.
On one hand she was happy to be the torchbearer showing the teachers the way to deal with autism. On the other hand it was difficult for her to hide her personal feelings. “It's difficult to be a mother of an autistic child you don't always understand that the child needs help. Sometimes parents cry to me that they wish their child would be handicapped in a wheelchair because then it would be easier to understand what he needs. Being the mother of an autistic child even if he's high-functioning is like riding on a train through the mountains sometimes you're going up and sometimes you're going down. Sometimes I would look at my son and tell myself; “he doesn't have autism he's totally regular boy”. The next moment something else would happen that would knock us both down. The autism didn't leave and you can't run away from it.”explained Mrs. Goldberg.
Avishai’s birthday parties in kindergarten were such a situation. “For three years I couldn't leave Avishai alone on his birthday. I had to sit next to him on the carpet next all the children and massage him so he would be able to sit and tolerate all the noises and the tumult of the kindergarten. We had many discussions before the party during it and afterwards.” explains Mrs. Goldberg.
“Many parents had no idea that Avishai was autistic. They laughed at me and call me an uptight mother but I continued to do what I had to do. Slowly but surely I saw Improvement and the third year of kindergarten I was able to sit back with all the other mothers. I'll never forget that day. I'll never forget how much I cried. It was the last birthday of the year in the Gymboree the mothers that were with me the past few years said that the path that we took is astounding and I could finally let go and let my son be like everyone else and that they don’t see anything wrong with him.”
“Then my son did something that wasn't acceptable and he explained to me that one of his friends told him it would be very funny and make everyone happy if he did it so he did it so he did it because he didn’t understand that it wasn't appropriate.”
“At that moment I understood he's not reading the map correctly. My son doesn't have a gray area; it's either black or white. Either he hates you or likes you. You’ll like him or you hate him, either you're his friend or you're not his friend. My son cannot read your face. If you want to tell him that you're angry, sad, happy, scared, emotional or bored you have to tell it to him with very clear words.
“Avishai also says exactly what's on his mind and there's no point in telling him that he's being brazen, punishing him or even arguing with him. You can discuss it with him afterwards but at the time he will have no idea why he should be punished and he won't understand that he acted with chutzpa.
“When you hear Avishai’s story then you can soften up. I told the teachers that Avishai was born after 5 years of fertility treatment and that I almost died at birth and that we had to sell her house in order to pay for his therapies. I told them about Avishai’s daily routine and how our house can look like a train station with therapists going in and out with more coming in and others leaving. I told them how nobody believes that Avishai is autistic; in the health clinic they thought I was an insane mother! Only in the Assaf Harofeh Hospital they understood that here was a high-functioning autistic boy. I told the teachers that he has dreams and ambitions and desires and I want him to be able to attain all of his goals.”
“I told them that Avishai knows that he's different but as far as he's concerned that's a good thing because all these years I’ve planted in him the faith that he's very special. Even if someone will laugh at him and say he's autistic Avishai won't be embarrassed by it because he considers it an attribute.”
“I told them the most important thing is to integrate these children into school and the first thing is that the school and its administration should have a desire to help and empathy. If they the desire and the empathy they can overcome any difficulty. Happily I find that Avishai’s School has that desire and empathy and I hope that he will always be taught by such amazing teachers. I concluded by telling them that I'm very optimistic I feel that Avishai will integrate well into society but his foundation starts here in your school and you are part of his future success.”