Tag: school

The beginning of the most important journey of our lives…a.k.a. Chapter 1.

When we had our first son together seven and half years ago, life was relatively simple.  I had been married before, as had my fiancee (now my husband).  I had ended my previous marriage and we shared custody of my two sons from my first marriage.

So there we were, with a new baby and two pre-teens.  Wait.  Did I say it was simple?  Okay, it wasn’t at the time, but when I look at how life is now and look back to that time, we had it kind of easy.  We were making very little money but by gum, we had LOVE on our side, right?

Starry-eyed and raising this brand new life, we were totally unprepared for what would come a few years later, when our second son was almost one year old.

Can anything really prepare you for that moment when you realize that things may not be progressing typically with your child? I remember moments when he was about 8 months old when I’d be holding him and rocking him to sleep.  I’d remember the scene in Mr. Holland’s Opus when his wife realizes that their son is deaf. And on some level, I knew.  I didn’t know what I knew, but I knew.

A few months later, my husband voiced his concerns to me. “He doesn’t look at us when we say his name or when we speak at all.  I think something’s wrong.” He was right- our very smiley, happy child was no longer looking at us.  Most kids at 11 months old are at least looking up when a parent says something, but he did not.  He was happy, but distant. At first we thought it was his hearing, and we talked with his pediatrician.

She referred us to the Ear, Nose, and Throat doc in town, and suggested that we call Early Intervention so that they could come and assess his development.  He was missing out on some of the standard developmental milestones.  By the time he was a year and a half, he would get tubes in his ears to hopefully bring an end to the many ear infections he had as an infant. At the same time, he was receiving speech therapy and “special instruction” to help him learn how to play with toys in an appropriate manner (don’t get me started on that, I have a whole separate post on “appropriate” play).  He was seen by social workers and specialists galore.  He had one hearing test after another, all inconclusive.  A month after the tubes were put in his ears, he had what’s called a “sedated ABR”, or auditory brainstem response study.  This is a test which measures the brain’s response to sounds, and the patient is sedated.  This was our first conclusive test- he had perfect hearing.

Finally, we had a better idea of the direction to head. This was not medical at all, but developmental. His pediatrician referred us to a developmental pediatrician at a hospital two hours away.  They had a long intake process and were booking quite a ways out.  Four months later, almost exactly one month before his 2nd birthday, we were given his official diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder, a Global Developmental Delay (he was delayed by about 18 months), and a Sensory Processing Disorder.

Luckily for us, we’re a rather “clinical” household, as I describe us to physicians.  That is my way of saying “don’t tiptoe around it, just say what it is”.  We’d already done a lot of research by diagnosis day, so this was no shock to us.

By the time he was three, he was aging out of Early Intervention services, and we found him the most perfect integrated preschool.  He was the smallest and youngest in his class, a tiny little non-verbal boy with a pacifier in his mouth and two small plastic animals in his hands everywhere he went. He communicated by pointing at things, and using the few ASL signs that we’d learned as a family.

He developed an incredible bond with his teacher and his aides, people that I am so grateful to continue working with.  About midway through his second full year at the preschool, he began to speak.  I finally heard his voice, and I sobbed.  From there, he continued to flourish, and now he can speak at length about his favorite subjects.

When he finished his second full year (including summers) at the preschool, we braced for him to move into the school district, in a gen ed classroom with a fabulous teacher and a 1:1 aide.  Now he’s in 1st grade, reading well and writing well.  He’s still got needs, and we’re meeting every one as they come up.

All along our path, things have just kind of…aligned in our favor.  I can’t say why, but I do know that no two families travel this path in the same way.  We bring to it our own personal experiences, knowledge, heart and soul.  And no two days are the same, either.  Some mornings I cry on the drive to work.  And then I dive headlong into helping other families so that I can feel some sense of purpose.  Other days are more easy to manage, and on those days I realize how lucky we are to have kids who have taught us so much more than we ever thought possible.

On to chapter 2…

Uh…a little help here?

Tomorrow is the first day of a brand new school year.

To say that we’re ready would be a dramatic understatement.

So what do you do when you’ve had enough, when you feel your patience slipping away, a veritable mudslide washing away the ground beneath a house?

Well, the first thing you must remember to do is to breathe.

It’s okay, we all yell once in awhile.  And while there are 24,000 articles on the internet waiting to tell us how horrible we are for losing our tempers, right here is a post telling you that you are normal.  You’re going to get stressed out.  And it’s likely going to happen on the night before the first day of school, when you have just spent 45 minutes reminding your child to eat “no, sweetie, one strand of spaghetti is not enough.  PLEEEEEEAAASSSSE could you take another big bite” and you feel your temperature rising and you are worried about the many items on your child’s school supply list and you have spent weeks preparing your child for THIS exact moment and your other son is contorting himself into pretzel-like shapes while rolling his eyes up into his head and mimicking a Saiga Antelope and disassembling a cucumber slice, one seed at a time.

You’ve packed the backpacks.
You’ve met with the teachers.
You’ve emailed the aides, the special ed teachers, the Occupational Therapists, the principal, and the head of special ed in your school district.
You’ve written social stories. (more on that in a bit)
You’ve read said social stories over and over.
You’ve visited the classroom.

So when you’re on the cusp of the beauty which is that long-awaited first day, why on earth would you get so snippy?

Well, if you’ve ever seen Ol’ Yeller, you know that the boy in the movie starts yelling at his beloved dog in an effort to make saying goodbye easier.
I would bet that the night-before-school snippiness would be for similar reasons.

Think about it- it’s never easy to put them on the bus and say goodbye for the first time.  It’s not easy to see them go regardless of their age.  When I see my 16 year old off for his first day at school, it’s not easy.  The year is full of so many unknowns for them, and all we can do is hope that we’ve done everything we can to prepare our kids for what lies ahead.

So, I say again: BREATHE.  Good!  Now do it again.  Sit down on the couch with your kids, give them lots of hugs, and remind them of all the reasons you love them so much.  It’s good practice anyway, and it may be the restart your brain needs. And then tomorrow morning, when you put them on that ginormous yellow bus, give yourself a hug and remind yourself of all the reasons that they love you.  

The second thing you need to do now is know that you’re giving them the tools they’ll use in the world.  For some kids, that means a communication device.  Others, a PECS board.  Still others yet, sign language.  You may be working with them on how to manage transitions, or you may be focused on difficulties with eating.  Some households are working on all of these and many more, all at once!

Give yourself room to understand why you may be particularly stressed.  Remember that while you’ve been teaching your children to use these tools, you’ve also been learning how to use them.  You may be figuring out that transitions are hard for you as well, and utilizing the same types of methods that your children are using.  You may have recently realized that you need substantial recovery time from major events in order to be able to attend to certain tasks. Guess what?  Your kids probably do as well.

And while we’re comparing you to your kids, keep in mind that you have spent all day at work, focusing on a million different things and interacting with a lot of people.  When you get home to the place which you’ve filled with all the comforting things, you may start to unravel.  You may start to come unglued.  You may experience some meltdown.  We see it day after day, the minute the kids walk through the front door it falls apart.  Holding it all together at school is hard- it takes energy to maintain certain accepted behaviors, and that requires time to reboot.  We as adults are really no different.  This is my theory as to why we’re far more likely to snap at loved ones than coworkers.  Some studies have indicated that it’s more to do with the quality of home life versus work life, but I suspect that for some of us it’s really that need to do a hard reset.

If some of this sounds as though I’m telling myself, you’re right.  I tell myself these things whenever I feel that mudslide pulling me down.  I hope that this has helped you to know that you are doing an AWESOME job!

It’s hard to believe that the boy in the far left photo is starting his sophomore year in college (this is him in first grade, I believe).  The boy in the middle is starting his junior year in high school (this is him in Kindergarten).  The boys on the far right you may recognize a little better, although the view is less than ideal.  This is Wonder Boy and Speedy, as WB went off to his second year of pre-K and Speedy sped off to Kindergarten.  They’re now going to first and second grades, respectively.

It goes by quickly, y’all.  Too quickly.