Tomorrow, Milo will be an hour and 1/2 late for school. I’ll take him out for pancakes and bacon, his favorite breakfast foods, and then to the library. While he’s perusing graphic novels, his classmates will get a visit from the school counselor and Milo’s lead “Exceptional Education” teacher, Mrs. P. These women have been tasked with explaining Milo to the other 4th graders. This is tricky because when you talk to a room full of school kids about their nutty classmate, you’re also talking to their parents. What you say to the kids will make it’s way home and some part of your speech will likely be lost along the way.
This happens every fall. Previously, it’s been less fraught because Milo’s years have gotten off to an easy start. But last week was loud and unpredictable and it stressed everyone out. So in go Mrs. P and the school counselor. They have 30 minutes in which to inspire the kids’ compassion, quell their curiosity, and allay their fear.
This is one of the conundrums of life with Milo: It’s not fair to not warn the other kids and their parents about Milo. But it’s not fair to Milo to overstate his difference to the point of isolating him. I asked to give the talk myself this year but was convinced not to by an experienced school psychologist with Milo’s best interest at heart. “That would follow him to middle school — Hey Milo, remember when your mom came to school to tell us not to be afraid of you? Man, that was embarrassing!” She has a point. But, if I were going give the talk, here’s what I would say:
Milo is a lot like you. He has a mom and a dad and an older sister he loves to play with and he often fights with. He has a dog, a Wii and a 3DS. He gets a ride to school in the morning and walks home in the afternoon. His favorite foods are pizza, burgers, chicken, french fries and broccoli, but only because I make him eat something green every night. His favorite dessert is strawberry sorbet. He loves to play video games. Right now he is all about Minecraft and Sonic the Hedgehog. He is teaching himself how to make an animated movie. He plays baseball in the spring and fall and swims in the summer. He loves water parks, telling jokes and dancing. He has read all of the Harry Potter books and is looking forward to starting the Hunger Games. This summer he went to tech camp for lego robotics and video game design, and to sleep away camp in the mountains.
But, Milo is also not like you. His brain works differently. Imagine being in a room with a TV turned way up and a radio turned way up and people speaking loudly. That’s a bit of what it’s like inside Milo’s brain — it’s noisy. Sometimes it’s so noisy he has trouble thinking, or focusing or concentrating. And sometimes the noise makes him angry or sad. When he gets angry or sad he yells and scream. He may even throw something or punch something. But something isn’t someone. He may punch the wall or a chair, but he doesn’t ever punch people. He doesn’t ever want to hurt another person, he’s just trying to quiet the noise in his brain. So you don’t have to worry that Milo may hurt you. If he does get angry or sad, just move away and give him space. He knows how to calm himself down. And when Milo gets upset, no matter what he says or does, he’s most upset with himself.
It’s hard to be Milo. It’s hard to live with the noise. It makes him sensitive to criticism. It can be easy to hurt his feelings. But it’s just as easy to apologize. Milo worries that people don’t like him, the same way you worry that people don’t like you. But that’s because he wants to have friends. And he wants to have fun with his friends. He wants to laugh and play games and tell stories and share secrets, just like you do. He also wants to impress the teacher and learn new things in school. He may not be as patient or grown up as you are, but he’s trying. And he needs your help. So try to remember that Milo is a 9 and 1/2 year old boy on a journey to finish the 4th grade. And that makes him a lot like you.
I’m so glad that you all are here to keep him company as he travels.
Now, are there any questions?