Presidents Day was never a particularly major holiday in my book. There were enough fun holidays during the years to get involved with, holidays with built-in entertainment (Easter egg hunts, Valentine’s Day cards, Halloween costumes, etc). Pretty much the only thought I gave to Presidents Day was, “Oh, they don’t have school on Monday? Well, at least I don’t have to make lunches.”
And then everything changed.
My son is on the autism spectrum. From very early on, he liked looking at and drawing and thinking about organized groups of people, arrays of faces that were similar but different. The Greek gods were one passion. The Beatles were another. And the presidents of the United States were maybe his most super favorite set of similar individuals.
I don’t even remember how it began. Maybe a teacher had a poster of the presidents on a wall. Maybe we bought him a book. Maybe he studied them in class. For whatever reason, at a very young age he became fascinated with the American presidents and since we were always looking for things to engage him, to keep him from zoning out and self-stimming, we bought book after book after book about them. Mostly picture books.
His memory is astonishing. One day, we asked him some question about the presidents and he proceeded to list all forty-one (it was a while ago) of them. In chronological order. He was tiny (it was probably first grade) and still struggling with conversational speech, taking hours of speech therapy every week, but the kid could list every single United States president in ORDER. He also knew most of their vice-presidents and wives.
One of the most important lessons I’d learned from working with Dr. Lynn Kern Koegel (of the Koegel Autism Center at the University of California, Santa Barbara) was that the best way to help a kid with autism socially is to find a socially acceptable way to let him display his natural skills and talents so that others can admire and even try to emulate them.
Suddenly Presidents Day took on new meaning.
We let our son’s teachers know (more…)