Autism Unexpected: Back to School: When Success Is a Surprise


Like many parents of children with autism, I faced the start of school this year with a good amount of trepidation. Jack, my son with autism, started second grade this fall, and I wasn’t sure what to expect.

Jack has not had the most auspicious start to his elementary school career, spending much of his first day of kindergarten in and out of the principal’s office after repeated escape attempts and teary episodes. That entire year was one long, difficult period of transition full of angst, tears and IEP meetings.

First grade was better but remained difficult. In retrospect, I think that the sensory overload of the classroom, combined with his inability to speak up for his needs, not to mention the increased workload of first grade, brought out some less than desirable behaviors in Jack.

These experiences taught me to be cautious about my expectations for how Jack would adjust to the start of school. However, much to my surprise (and delight), this year has gone well so far. Jack has gotten almost entirely good reports from his teachers and aides, and he has been fairly agreeable about doing his work. Every day, when he gets off the bus, I ask him how his day went, and every day, he says, “Awesome!”

I’m starting to move from wondering when the other shoe will drop to if the other shoe will drop.

Now, you should understand that I don’t believe all of our difficulties are over. I have a child with autism — I know he will stumble and have problems at school. Yet, I’m starting to wonder if he’s turning a corner.

As a 7-year-old, Jack has a growing sense of self-awareness about himself and his needs. His teachers, occupational therapist and I are working together to address his sensory needs and teaching him to self-advocate. I’m hopeful that this work will help him spend less time reacting against things that happen in his classroom and more time taking part in them. I’m hopeful that Jack’s ups will start to outnumber his downs.

All of this is to say that there is hope. If you have a child having a hard time in school, hang in there. Know that age helps tremendously. Your path will not necessarily mirror mine and Jack’s. Every child with autism faces different challenges and has different successes. Your child’s turning point may not be at the same age as Jack’s — if that is even what this is.

But, if you have a young child on the spectrum who is having trouble in school, know that it can get better. My Jack, who couldn’t even last for the whole first day of kindergarten? Well, look at him now.

There is hope.

Originally published at Autism Unexpected on September 13, 2010.