We just got back from my son’s back-to-school night. John is a 15-year-old with autism spectrum disorder, and he is in an all autism out-of-district school. John has been in this type of setting since he was 3 years old, and this is the third and likely final school he will be in.
Every year, back to school night makes me reflect back on the early years, and as my wife is a special education teacher, it makes me think about the exceptional people my son has had in his life.
We were terrified in those early years, my wife and I. Everything was so new, the future so unknown. Who would he become? How would he get there? Who would help us? Were we doing the right thing? And the most important question of all – were these the right people? These questions can haunt you as an ASD parent, especially at the beginning. Before you develop a sense for who’s right for your child and who’s not. Even if you think you have a bit of instinct to rely on, you’re not sure your instinct is even reliable. You are putting a lot into someone’s hands on nothing more than faith.
We were very lucky in those early years. I would venture to say we didn’t even know how lucky we were until we got to look back on it. John’s first school was a warm and loving environment, a place my wife described as “like walking into a warm hug.” For most of his years there, he was in a classroom with the same teacher and the same assistants. This team of people was nothing short of exceptional. Their level of dedication and love for my child is unmatched to this day. We’re still in touch with his teacher from those early years. She still likes to know how he’s doing. I don’t think her love for him ended when he aged out. You can’t put a price on that.
His second school was a much more formal environment. It was what he needed as he was getting older and a focus on academics became more important. It was hard for us as parents, adjusting to this environment, though he did exceptionally well. There was no more daily communication of
every detail from his day. He had more responsibility than he used to for things like homework. He was being challenged more. He also had the same teacher and aide here for a good long stretch of time. At first we had trepidations, but by the end of those four years, we knew that we had hit the jackpot a second time. It became clear that this second set of people in his life were as dedicated and
caring as the first set of people.
Around the age of 14, John also outgrew that environment. We had to start looking for other schools, and we heard about one within a decent busing distance. Friends were telling us to see it, and we finally did. After just a few minutes, we could feel that it was the right place for him at this time in his life. And the people — could this be happening a third time? Could we really be finding another place with people of the same caliber as the first two?
We moved him in mid-school-year last year and this year he’s back for the full year. He is joyous
about this place. He’s surrounded by a team full of people who get him, who challenge him and who help him to be a better him. And after back-to-school night, I can honestly say these people have
the same level of dedication and caring as he had the first two times.
I don’t know what we did to be this lucky, to find good people at every turn. To find people who help our son become the best person he can be. I do know, however, that it’s not something you can buy or beg or borrow or steal. It’s a gift from the universe, and I’m eternally thankful for it.