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A Letter to My Autistic Son's 2nd Grade Teacher, Whom I Have Yet to Meet

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Dear second grade teacher,

Today I learned the mail is not delivered to our end of the development until almost 4 (a time I would almost consider evening, and not afternoon). I learned this today because I joined with the other parents in Loudoun County in anxiously awaiting the arrival of a letter from school — a letter that promised all kinds of important information about the first days of the new year. 

And so it was today, at almost 4 in the late afternoon, that I saw your name for the first time at the top of a generic form letter — a generic letter in an envelope with three pieces of paper, none of them truly specific to my child. Just another invite to the school’s open house. Just another kid with a bag full of composition books and Kleenex, making his way to a second grade classroom.     

Something about the sight of that thin envelope against the backdrop of IEPs, FBAs, BIPs and all the other acronyms that accompany my child into this adventure, made my heart sing and ache in the same beat.  

So… hi!      

I’ll give you a minute to catch your breath. I know you are busy and everyone wants your attention. You won’t see us grappling for face time with you this week. We’ve got a whole year before us, and this isn’t my first rodeo.  

I know he’s a lot (and he comes by that honestly, you’ll find). 

I know you don’t even know what questions to ask yet (you probably like to get to know the students before you go through all the paperwork). 

I know you think you’ve got it all squared away (and I like that about you!).

I know you’ve taught lots of kids like him over the years…

(But you haven’t. You really haven’t.)

I know you’ll know how to reach me when the parentheses catch up with you and the strategies stop working and you are left with this spicy, brilliant boy, who will be rewriting the rules faster than you can learn them.

little boy with autism on the computer

I wonder how much you may already know about Danny. This will be his third year at this school, and he doesn’t fade into the background easily. I wonder if you are excited to have him in your class or if you are a little panicked about it. I certainly wouldn’t blame you if you were… I panic sometimes when I take him to Target and all I’m trying to do is get out of there without him touching the bikes. He is a handful, no doubt about it and, even better, he is a handful I am pressing right into your palms by requesting he attend your school even though we don’t live in the neighborhood. In these first days he may make your job harder. He may make your days longer. He may make your lessons feel less effective. You may question at least once a day if he is really in the right class.

His Dad and I… we know this. We’ve been down this road before.

This will be Danny’s eighth first day of school (I count the summers because he does) since he qualified for the county’s preschool when he was 3 years old. For parents of children with special needs, these first days pale in comparison to the weight of eligibility determinations and IEP meetings. We know better than to hang our hopes on an amazing first day or to believe those first six hours matter much at all in the long run.

We know we don’t always make great first impressions. We know we have to give it time. We know this partnership is unlikely to hit it its stride in the first sprint. 

As we prepare for this next first, I want you to know I get it and I am in your corner. I will read your emails, I will fill out the forms, I will come to the conferences and I will answer the questions. I will trust you. If you tell me about it, I will talk about what happens in the classroom at home so Danny will know his Dad and I are serious about his relationship with school and with you. When you are frustrated, we will listen. When he is lost, we will help you find him. 

little boy with autism at school near the window

I also want you to know, though I only know your name, I am grateful for you. I am grateful for the calling on your life and how it has caused our paths to cross in this moment.    

Thank you for reading all those packets of paper that are always inconveniently stapled and double sided. Thank you for writing sub plans for all of the meetings we are going to need you to attend, for writing emails in all caps when he blows us away and for speaking gently when the words are hard to hear. Thank you for the breaths you will take to keep your cool when Danny’s calm explodes in tears and stims over something you can’t understand.  

Thank you for listening to the journey. Thank you for celebrating with us when he says something wonderful because you remember how I told you about those years with no words. Thank you for acknowledging our history, for seeing that we what we have given autism over the years is directly proportional to what we have been unwilling to let it take. 

Thank you for understanding I am not sorry – not the least bit sorry – for what Danny is going to bring into your class and into your life. Thank you for making a place for him in your class and for helping us make the most of this thin moment in the wide, general education, world. 

He may make your job harder, but brighter. He may make your days longer, but richer. You may see his classmates find compassion and friendship where they had first found only frustration.     

He is one of a kind.

He is our world. 

And he is so excited to meet you.  

Follow this journey on Joyful Noise.

Originally published: August 29, 2016
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