I’m sitting in the driveway thinking about my first post for “Hopeful Parents”. It’s 1:30pm and I’m waiting for The Van. The Van is the white ten passenger school van that brings my son home from his summer program.
When we were offered the option of The Van at my son’s first IEP meeting last winter, I immediately said “no”. I gave them many reasons, of course. I told them I thought at age three he was too young to be on The Van. I told them I liked bringing him to school and picking him up so I could have that teacher contact. I told them that I thought he just wasn’t ready to be on The Van. So we checked “decline” in the “transportation” box on the IEP form.
The reality of course was that I wasn’t ready for him to be on The Van.
I had many reasons. I blamed it on my germphobia – sharing car seats with multiple kids…that was a surely a recipe for catching multiple diseases. I blamed it on my inner control freak – I wanted to know directly from his aide how his day was and I didn’t want to be out of the loop of things at school. I blamed my helicopter parenting tendencies – I didn’t want someone else driving my kid around. What if he got scared or upset? What if he had to go to the bathroom? What if the weather’s bad and The Van gets stuck somewhere? And I blamed it on his autism. It would be too many changes too soon, as he moved from just three mornings a week at school to a five day full day program. Wouldn’t he need me to help him get through the new routine?
But as I thought about it more, the real reason hit me in an ugly and sad way.
I wasn’t ready for The Van to come to my house.
The Van is our town’s version of the short yellow bus. Everyone knows what The Van means. I wasn’t quite ready to admit to the world that my son had special needs.
When we got his autism diagnosis in December 2009, it wasn’t much of a surprise. We knew for a while that something was different about him, but when he started preschool we could really see that he needed help. Getting the PDD-NOS diagnosis meant we could get him that help so he could succeed in school and at home. And while I was ready to admit inside the four walls of our house that our son was autistic, I wasn’t ready to broadcast it to the neighborhood. In my head, that’s what The Van would have done.
Fast forward to June and I had made countless trips back and forth for pickup and drop-off, and suffered through a thousand guilt trips as I dragged his little brother up from a nap to get to school on time and rushed back to meet his older brother at the bus stop. I was driving my mini-van around our little town with the speed and precision of a New York City cab driver. Then, right before school ended for the year, the teacher called to get permission for my son to ride in The Van to an off-site bowling party for the whole class. It was the school’s policy that the kids in the special learning program traveled to off-site events in The Van. I agreed and sent in my permission slip. When I picked up my son at the end of the party, I asked him what his favorite part of the day was. His response? “The Van ride!”
So when summer school time came and the question of using The Van for the ride home came around again, this time I said “yes”. I told them it was for my son’s benefit. He was older now. It was a good chance to practice his social speech skills with his friends. He was familiar enough with the routine so The Van ride wouldn’t overwhelm him. But really, it was for me. There would be no rushing out to pick him up at school. No waking the baby, no driving around like a maniac from my older son’s camp to get back in time for lunch and then pickup. By still driving him in the morning, I’d continue to have that teacher contact. We’re at the end of summer school now and it was the best decision I ever made. The Van ride home is still my son’s favorite time of day. He loves looking at the trucks out the window with his buddies, and the ride calms him and helps him decompress after a busy day at school.
More importantly, I’ve grown comfortable sharing our story in town and now I am happy to have The Van pull into my driveway. Just like every other new specialized service we’ve added to my son’s routine, it has only made life better for him and for all of us.
In fact, The Van is pulling into the driveway right now so I need to go. Besides, I’m pretty sure my first “Hopeful Parents” post just wrote itself.
Alysia Butler is a stay at home mom to three boys, one of whom has autism spectrum disorder. She writes about that and other things at http://trydefyinggravity.wordpress.com and is trying to figure out Twitter @trydefyinggrav.