I was introduced to Torey Hayden’s books in college by my Freshman year Foundations of Education professor. Her book, One Child, was required reading at some point or another during that year. The class was a year-long class and at the time I was a music education (double) major.
I loved that education class, aside from the presentations we had to give, which I always got complaints about because I wasn’t sure how to speak loudly enough for everyone to hear me. My education professor was very gung-ho about us going out and getting jobs in underprivileged school systems.
It was in his class that I learned about socioeconomic status and what that means for poorer schools and students in the USA. I’d come from a stable family, economically-speaking, and I first learned about economic privilege in that class. Had I continued on to become a teacher, I absolutely would’ve taught in a poorer school district just based on what I learned in that class as well as the experiences I’d had just the previous summer working at a church camp that was based in a low-income area of a city.
But that’s another story. Back to Torey Hayden’s books!
Disclaimer: I have not reread these books since learning that I’m Autistic or more about how important it is to listen to the perspectives of disabled people over the perspectives of teachers and parents. So I do not know if I can truly recommend them to others at this point, I just know my own experiences of reading them many years ago. Also, most of them would need some pretty hefty content/trigger warnings so be careful in that way if you need to be.
Her books were unlike anything I’d ever read. The reactions other people were described as having towards the children she worked with were familiar to me. I was never put in “special education” classes, but I spent a great deal of my childhood being in trouble for doing things that I never understood why I shouldn’t do or what was wrong about what I’d done. Adults treated me very like how the other adults treated the children in Torey Hayden’s classes.
I felt a strong kinship to the children in her books; one that I quickly pushed to the back of my mind because there resided dangerous self-perceptions and misunderstandings. But still, I (metaphorically) devoured her books. I bought nearly every single one that was based on her experiences working with disabled and/or abused children, and I read each one multiple times.
The way she described treating the children she worked with was so unlike how I’d been treated by the adults, especially the teachers, in my life. She seemed to see them as worthy human beings, no matter how they behaved. No, she didn’t let them hurt other people or just do whatever they wanted, but she didn’t seem to force or punish or dismiss their experiences either.
She stuck up for them, talked to the higher-ups of the school on their behalf, tried to make their environments as friendly as she knew how.
I’m certain that, were I to reread them now (which I could easily do since I still own them), I would find upsetting things from the perspective of an Autistic advocate. But her compassion towards those children has stuck with me clearly and strongly all these years. She wrote about children like me as though we just needed a little extra time and care and support. As though we deserved to be believed and treated well.
Until today, literally minutes before I sat down to write this post (and I’m going to publish it as soon as I’ve read through it a couple of times), I hadn’t really considered the extent of how much I related to those children in her books. Not all of them, not in every way; but enough to bring me to tears as the memory suddenly hit.
I suspect that her books helped influence my parenting style and willingness to meet my children where they are and to take them seriously when they are struggling.
Maybe now the memory of her books can help me be more willing to meet myself where I am and take myself seriously when I’m struggling too.