My husband does not have a college degree. I am not passing judgment here, just supplying a bit of background information. You see, when I do something dumb, he might make a snarky comment about the “usefulness” of my college degree. Or if I share an anecdote about something ridiculous at work, he might snort incredulously, “And these people are college graduates?!”
I think we all know someone who is book-smart but lacks common sense. We all can name people who have never set foot in a college classroom yet who display great wisdom. I currently work at a highly selective liberal arts college complete with elitist attitudes. Me, I went to a state school, so there are times when I adopt my husband’s point of view when I encounter supposedly well-educated people doing stupid things. “Gee,” I think, “you got a really expensive degree yet you can’t figure out how to <insert an incredibly simple task>?”
But, truth be told, I can be a snob, too. I’m not above thinking that earning a college degree gives me an edge.
When I was pregnant, I felt a combination of fear and bravado. I was afraid since I had never planned on having children. (Note to self: a bachelor’s degree is not a contraceptive). I hadn’t really thought of myself as a mother, but I had nine months to mentally prepare. I treated pregnancy like a 400 level course with childbirth as the final exam. I read all the books that I could. I researched like there could be a pop quiz at any moment.
As I imagined what my life was going to become, I often assured myself that I could handle it. Why? Because I didn’t have just any old degree – I had majored in education and then taught elementary children for almost seven years. During those years, I took graduate classes and participated in countless workshops, lectures and other forms of professional development. Surely, if anyone can be prepared for parenthood, it has to be a teacher, right?
See what I mean about some people with college degrees not being too bright?
I was an itinerant teacher back in my former life. That meant I traveled between classrooms and schools. In those seven years of teaching, I worked at fifteen different schools and taught thousands of different students. Now that I’ve learned of its prevalence, one might assume I interacted with at least a few students with autism spectrum disorder.
I only remember one.
The one student I remember had Asperger Syndrome. Despite my child development and psychology classes in college, I’m not sure I knew at the time that Asperger’s is “on the spectrum.” And, I am positive I had no clue how to effectively modify my classroom or adapt my teaching strategies to meet that child’s needs. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the day she had a meltdown in my classroom, was physically restrained and then removed from the room.
I look back to my brief teaching career and think of all the times I thought I was battling behavior issues in students, but I now suspect that it was my lack of understanding of the way in which some children process the world.
Now that I am a mother, I realize how little I really know about anything. But if going to college and being a teacher prepared me for anything, it is to be a lifelong learner. I’m not disappointed that I don’t know it all. In fact, I look forward to learning and discovering new things with my child.
Becoming a parent, especially the parent of a child with autism, has been a humbling experience. These days, I often think how woefully unprepared I was for motherhood. It is not the life I imagined while my son grew inside me. It was not the life I anticipated when he was born and hit those early developmental milestones. It was not the life I expected when I mistook his spinning for dancing or believed that his interest in lining up objects was the way that all children played.
It has been only two months since Philip was diagnosed. I am still on the roller coaster of emotions associated with that. I cried that day, but not because the doctor confirmed what we already expected. I didn’t cry from grief over the loss of the life I had been imagining. What made me cry that day was hearing the psychologist read from the remarks written by Philip’s teacher on one of the evaluation forms:
“Philip is easy to love.”
It doesn’t take a college degree to appreciate that.
I was reminded of this post when I read “When I Was 21” over at Stuphblog last week. It’s now been two years since the diagnosis, but it doesn’t hurt to look back on my thoughts and feelings at the time, especially since Autism Awareness/Acceptance Month is almost here. Linking this up with the good folks over at the Yeah Write #154 Weekend Moonshine Grid.