As I was reflecting on this I realized that as a family we are really lucky, because school isn't the only place where they think of him as "our Matthew". It extends to other parts of our lives as well (our friends, our family, our neighborhood, and our church.) In the interest of not turning this into a book length blog post, I thought I would share some of the ways our church fit this description too (edited from a church newsletter article I wrote).
Acceptance and Understanding - Matthew is accepted for who he is. People don't look at him funny when he starts jumping, making noises or flapping. They understand that many of these things are his way of showing excitement. People understand his need for touch and let him scratch their beards. Several members have told us that they were "moved" when Matthew chose their lap as a place to sit or their hand to hold. They don't blink an eye when they see him coming into church with both a plastic waffle and bun from the play food from the nursery. Every Sunday these are his two favorite items to carry around (and scratch).
Valuing - Our church goes beyond accepting Matthew. They value him as a member. When he is in Sunday School, his teachers ask him questions, just like they ask the other students in the class. With my support we can facilitate his response which helps the other students see him as an important member of the class too. Our childrens' choir director knows that one of Matthew's strengths is jumping. So when she leads us in singing songs that involve jumping, she often does a little shout out to Matthew, letting him know to get his jumping feet ready.
Social Skills - Something that Matthew will probably always be working on are social skills. Church is a safe place to make mistakes and learn from his mistakes. Sunday School, Fellowship/Treat Time, Nursery, and even the worship service (i.e. passing of the peace) itself all give him opportunities to learn and grow socially. Being invited to birthday parties of his Sunday School friends is another opportunity that he has to work on his social skills.
My hope with this blog is that even readers who have never met Matthew feel like they know him, understand, and accept him. That to all of us he is "our Matthew".
Author Note: One of my favorite "teacher books" is Choice Words by Peter Johnston. It made me a firm believer that the words we choose to use and say do matter.