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When your child is nailed as a special needs kid, the school system gives him or her an Individualized Education Plan, or IEP. Once a year the parents get together with the teachers, the principal, and any and all therapists, psychologists, etc who have been working with your child. And you talk. How the kid’s doing at school, how s/he’s functioning on the playground, socially, etc. Everyone gives a report.

Here I sit, an hour and twenty minutes away from Joseph’s IEP, and I’ve got the jitters. They did a comprehensive testing this year, even hiring an outside psychologist to evaluate my son. Gasp. I’m sure glad they don’t examine me like this every year!

This school year I’ve helped out in Joseph’s classroom every two weeks, and it’s been an eye opener to see him in action. Last Thursday, for instance, he was out for testing with the Special Ed teacher. When he came back, he was supposed to join some of the other kids over at the kindergarten to help a kid read.  His teacher, Mrs. Crosby, explained this to him and said she’d watch out the window as he went.

But Joseph wasn’t having any of that. He stopped, rubbed his face, and looked dismayed. “It’s — it’s — it’s too much,” he said, anxiety creeping into his voice.

Mrs. Crosby couldn’t leave, as she had other kids in the class. The aide was already at the kindergarten. Naturally, I volunteered to walk him over, and I did.

I just didn’t know he’d need help walking from one building to the next.

It was a 30-second walk.

These are the kinds of things I’ve learned from being in the classroom one morning every two weeks.

I’ve learned that Joseph really does needs his aide. Not all the time, but when he needs her, he needs her. It’s hard for him to pay full attention to everything he’s supposed to pay attention to. He needs more movement than many of the other kids. The aide keeps him focused and also has him get up from his seat to go to a quiet corner of the room for something like reading. He gets to use the white board for stuff sometimes. Just that little bit of moving around and standing to write helps him out.

We are incredibly fortunate to be in such a supportive school. They make it work for Joseph. He’s doing well academically — not brilliantly, but well enough. I know that school will get harder as the years go by, and I hope and pray that Joseph can keep up — not only academically, but socially, as well.

I guess that’s what the jitters are about. Are they going to tell me that my kid — my beloved, amazing child — has problems I’m unaware of? Are they going to take his aide away for next year? Are they going to see him as a “case,” with data and facts, while I see him with a mother’s loving heart? Am I going to cry in front of them? It’s such a vulnerable position for a parent.

Well, time to breathe myself back into the moment. Time to quiet my mind, open my heart, and claim my trust in God.

Oh, yeah. Breath. Trust. Quiet.

Steady, girl. Here we go.

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I’ve spent nearly all of my life feeling unsupported. My family of origin was big into unspoken pretense: If you pretended all was well — if you avoided the underbelly of yucky, really awful stuff — then you’d get by.

But if you’re completely invested in this kind of pretense, then you never learn to ask for help. You’re too busy pretending you don’t need it.

For decades I had a recurring theme in my dreams. I was being chased by some unknown, but very scary, creatures. I’d make it to a phone booth, pick up the phone, dial 911, wait breathlessly for them to pick up — and they never did. Or I’d see some people and I’d open my mouth to scream, “HELP! HELP!” but I couldn’t get the words out of my mouth. Never did I get the help I needed. It was terrifying. I felt so helpless.

When Joseph was diagnosed with autism, I followed the family pattern. I isolated. We told almost no one for a long time, and even when we told our families, we didn’t tell them what a nightmarish time we were having of it. We didn’t ask for help when we really, really could have used some.

This is one of the things I know this amazing soul has come to teach me. With Joseph as my son, I have to show my vulnerable underbelly a lot more than I want to.

We go to a church. Yes, I am a yogi, but I am a Christian yogi. A couple of years ago we stopped in at a church for Christmas carols. Joseph insisted that we go back again — and again, and again — and, before you know it, we were enjoying ourselves and getting some deep insights from the pastor who, like us, has been broken open by pain.

Yesterday there was a new teacher named Carol volunteering at Joseph’s Sunday School. It turned out that her son goes to the same small, country public school that Joseph attends, and we saw her there today. Carol asked if there was anything she could do for Joseph at church when the music gets loud — she noticed that he covered his ears when that happened.

Carol was presenting us with an opening, giving us a choice we’ve encountered many times:

To tell or not to tell.

Oftentimes in the past I would have chosen Door Number Two, but I’ve been worked over so much now that it’s easy to choose Door Number One. I told her that Joseph has high-functioning autism. She’d already guessed that, but telling her immediately shifted the depth of our conversation. She shared about her friend’s son’s autism, about her own child’s anxiety, and ended by inviting us to have Joseph and her boys share ice cream together sometime soon. None of that would have happened if I’d stuck to my old habit of pretense.

It was a good start to Joseph’s first day in first grade. What also made it good was the principal coming to tell Blue Eyes and me that they’d interviewed 25 people and had found the person they felt would be perfect as an aid to Joseph. They’d selected very carefully, he said, because Joseph is an awesome kid and they wanted him to be set up for success. Joseph’s teacher came over to tell us she was including a journal in his backpack to keep the channels of communication wide open between the three of us and that she was excited to have Joseph in her class. And she meant it.

I walked away from that school feeling held. Carried. Supported. I guess Joseph isn’t just my and Blue Eye’s project. Joseph has always had the good karma of drawing together a caring community that holds him lovingly. And when I’m honest and vulnerable I get held by them, as well.

They say autistic kids at some point choose whether or not to let people into their lives. I’m coming to realize that this is not just an autistic person’s choice. That fork in the road is constantly before us. I thank this son of mine for helping me to choose the path that lets people in — more deeply than ever before.

It’s incredibly nice to dial 911 and have someone answer the call.