How I Know My Son on the Autism Spectrum Will Be Just Fine This School Year
There are few things that give me more anxiety than the start of a new school year: acid rain, nuclear winter, the off-chance one of the boys will discover “Caillou” on one of our streaming services.
Yes, there are things I could agonize over more that the start of school.
Not many, though.
When you have small kids, it’s only natural to be a little nervous about them “flying solo.” You get used to being your kids’ sole provider, making sure they have everything they need, watching them like a hawk to make sure they don’t do themselves bodily harm. Remember how nervous you felt the first time you left your new baby with someone? It’s no different when you send them off to school that first time.
Except with an autistic child, every year feels like the first time. Might be the same school, but every year means a new teacher. Every year means new classmates. Transition can be rough for autistic children. It’s just as rough for their parents. Will he respond well to the new teacher? Is he going to be OK going into a completely new environment (classroom)? Are any of the kids that were with him last year going to be with him this year? How will the new kids he meets treat him? How’s he going to handle the demands of moving up a grade, and the more challenging work that comes with that?
I agonize over this ever year. And every year he does just fine.
There I was at the bus stop last week, thumping my foot up and down, pacing like a caged hippo, waiting for the bus to show up, fretting over how he would do with the ride after three months off. Meanwhile, my boy is doing his thing, chasing around after his brother while their mom happily took pictures. I was the only one waiting for an axe to drop, playing scenario after scenario of doom in my head and trying to come up with as many contingency plans as I could should a meltdown present itself.
The face of calm, collected autism-parenting.
Then came the moment of truth. Bus pulled up. Doors opened. Miss Connie (the driver) and Miss Sherry (the monitor) both peeked out their heads and told him “hi.” That’s when it happened:
He completely forgot I existed and jumped right on board without so much as a fare-thee-well.
It’s been a week, now. I’m getting a little better, a little more relaxed, but I still haven’t completely unclenched. This in spite of the fact he’s come home happy every day. In spite of the daily reports with the little smiley faces circled marking his behavior anywhere between “Good” to “Great.”
Truth is, I know he does much better when school’s in session. Common wisdom is that autistic kids thrive with routine and structure, and school definitely provides that. He’ll be a little resistant to getting up and going sometimes, but I chalk that up to him waking up hangry more often than not. Breakfast drink, bowl of Cream of Wheat, cup of yogurt or Jell-O, the declaration that it’s “Bus Time!” and he’s usually good to go.
Still can’t help myself, though. There’s always a part of me that dreads getting a call from school while I’m at work. Always a part of me that worries the teacher won’t be patient enough with him, or that the kids won’t be kind enough. Anxiety that his IEP won’t be followed to the letter. Terror at the thought of something setting him off, causing a meltdown that ends up with him accidentally hurting one of the other kids.
Never mind the fact that the school and teaching staff seem to be right on top of things, and there’s no indication that won’t be the case even if something does go wrong. I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop. It’s just hard to trust anyone to look after him the way I hope he’ll be looked after.
Don’t confuse me with reality. I’m an autism parent. Sue me. Trust is a luxury.
Still, with all that said, it appears that my boy has made another terrific start, once again making me look like an overanxious grandmother. Of course that’s not really fair to say, because even his grandmother didn’t worry over everything as much as I did.
If there’s anything to take from this, I guess it would be to trust in him, and trust in the school. At least trust in the school unless given good reason not to.
He’s hit warp five, and all systems read as normal. God willing, the rest of his voyage this year will go just as smoothly.
Here’s hoping you’re able to say the same with your little explorers.
A version of this story originally appeared on “Fatherhood in the Trenches.”