“Did you really just fall out of your chair? In the middle of class? For no reason?” my brother asked me. He was a senior in high school. I was one year out of college.
At first, I was perplexed. What was he talking about? Fall out of my chair?
“Mrs. Russert told me you just used to fall out of your chair,” he explained. Oh, Mrs. Russert. She was my 12th-grade English teacher and was currently my little brother’s English teacher. The memory of her class was served back to me like an old forgotten pal who suddenly friend requests you on Facebook.
I started laughing. “Yeah, I did,” I said.
“Why?” my brother asked. Fair question.
“I dunno,” I said. “I guess I was just bored. Or I needed to move — or something.”
“Is that why you also took walks around the classroom and sharpened your pencil in the back of the class, like, five times an hour? Mrs. Russert said you did that, too.”
I was now laughing so hard that tears were stinging my eyes. I had completely forgotten about that.
“I don’t get it,” my little brother said. “You were so annoying, but our teacher loved you, and she hates me.”
This was always the case with teachers. If they loved me, they hated my little brother. If they loved my little brother, it was safe to assume that they had hated me. This trend followed us into the college years. When we happened to share a professor, the same rules applied. My brother and I couldn’t be more different, so the reactions to us were always on polar extremes.
Growing up, my brother had his fair share of learning disabilities. He was also shy, sensitive and aloof. Accommodations were made for sensory processing. There were tutors and occupational therapy and speech therapy. He was the kid to worry about. I, on the other hand, was the hyper one with the imagination, the one who could make friends in a flash and take command of an entire room. I didn’t need outside assistance; I was just fine.
Except at 18 years old, I was falling out of my chair because... I don’t know that I ever knew.
Today, while my brother was sitting comfortably in his well-paid communications position, my husband and I attended yet another meeting with my son’s kindergarten teacher. This time, she was accompanied by an occupational therapist and a speech therapist. He’s having trouble not with making friends but with keeping them. As someone who struggled with the same problem as a kid, I want to nip it in the bud.
The therapists told us our son has sensory processing issues. I told them about my brother. They nodded. They said our son is sensory-seeking. He crashes to the floor. For apparently no reason, he will just fall out of a chair.
They say he will walk around the room and find things to make obnoxious sounds.
Where have I heard this before?
“Like an old-school pencil sharpener?” I asked.
I asked for the exact diagnosis. I heard terms I know from my brother and terms I’d never heard before, such as pragmatic language deficit. I asked them to explain. When they did, I defended our son’s creativity. We are imaginative! We are storytellers! We are humorists!
They responded that there is a time and place.
“Is this genetic?” I asked. But I knew the answer. And this is not my little brother’s hodgepodge of learning disabilities; this is mine. With every diagnosis given to my son, I’m hearing my own for the very first time.
“We love your son,” all three women in the room assured us. “He’s delightful!” One even admitted to asking him more questions than necessary because his answers were so funny that she wanted to write them all down.
“I don’t get it,” my little brother had said. “You were so annoying, but our teacher loved you.” Good golly, I was annoying. I chronically lost friends, always learned the hard way and had plenty of teachers despise me.
But I was funny, too, and smart and eager, and I participated. Thus, the humorous teachers, who probably recognized my undiagnosed behavior, found me, well, delightful.
“We’re happy he’s here,” our son’s teacher said. “We’ll give him the tools to shine. He’s still so young.”
Go ahead and rub it in.
Katiedid Langrock is author of the book “Stop Farting in the Pyramids.”