Thursday, June 11, 2009

DCMM: School of Hard Knocks

I'm not quite sure how it got to be June already, but it seems like it was just August and I was sending my autistic middle son, Jack, off to his first day of kindergarten. That first day was a humdinger, with a call from the principal and an early pick up because Jack had such a tough day.

There's nothing like crying in the principal's office on the very first day of school after he calls you in to pick up your child because he had such a hard day and tried to escape from his class several times.

I called my husband in tears that afternoon. I cried because I didn't expect the bad day to happen. I cried because I'd been in the basement of someone's house and my cell phone didn't pick up the first call from the principal. I cried because I was worried that I would never be able to be farther than ten minutes away from Jack's school again. I cried because I'd hoped for better.

That day was undeniably my worst of the year, but we had a lot of close runners up. Jack had a really rough first year of elementary school. We have spent every single day this year adjusting to the difficulties of kindergarten.

Jack's autism manifests itself mostly in social and behavioral ways, and he had some really difficult days. As did I. I'm at the point that I cringe when I see the school's phone number on the caller ID (and am relieved when it is one of the automated calls telling me about a school event). Although now I am willing to venture far away during school hours and I'm not overly concerned if I'm out of cell phone range for a couple of hours.

In some ways it seems that the year flew by, but I cannot believe how much we packed into that year. In some ways, it seems impossible that it's only been ten months since that first day. We've learned so much about what Jack needs to be successful in school (and there is still so much to learn). We've done so much. Along the way, we've found new friends, therapists, specialists, and even a legal team.

Jack has worked so hard. So very hard.

And he has grown so much. So very much.

But it has been really hard on all of us. It has taken pretty much the whole school year for Jack to adjust to full-day kindergarten. And I'm not absolutely sure that he has finished that adjustment process. I worry what the disruption of summer will do to that process. I worry that first grade will be far harder on him than kindergarten ever was.

I spent a lot of time trying to decide whether to delay kindergarten a year for Jack. Ultimately we decided to send him, and I'm pretty sure it was the right decision. Even with all of his struggles, I don't know that if we had to do it all over again that we would do it differently. I think that every step we've taken has been necessary. At the very least, it's hard enough to deal with what is without dealing with what might have been.

Parenting is hard. Parenting a special needs child is hard. Sending a special needs child to school with the expectation (or hope) that he will behave enough like the other kids to be okay seems even harder on some days.

I feel like we've been on a journey this year. I feel like it's been even more of a journey than the year or so we spent discovering and diagnosing Jack's autism. I think we've all come into our own and have settled into our lives as an autistic family. We finally kind of know how this special needs thing works. At least for us. And at least for right this very minute—one of the things I've learned is that "this special needs thing" can change second by second.

Jack's kindergarten graduation is this Friday. When he is up on that stage singing "First Grade, First Grade" to the tune of "New York, New York," I will know that he earned that honor. He fought to get through kindergarten, and I am so damn proud of him. For him, the words he will sing—"if I can make it there, I can make it aaaaannnnnywheeeeeeeere..."—are more than just empty song lyrics.

And now I'm going to start crossing my fingers that he'll make it in first grade.

Original DC Metro Moms Blog post. Jean blogs at Stimeyland.

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