In three days, on September 13th, my son Jacob starts something like 3rd grade at a new special ed school. This is his first school-age transition, and I have been ignoring what a big change it is going to be in our lives until now, when I am scrambling to wrap my brain around it and figure out how we are going to work out all the logistics of the to-ing and fro-ing and getting his twin brother to and from another school all at the same time. When Jake was young, his pre-school changed annually, as he and his needs evolved so rapidly, including a huge bulk of home based learning and therapy, with me supervising and co-ordinating, learning to be what I called a “pre-school director for student body of one.” But for the past three years he has stayed put, so I have grown a bit complacent, a bit lazy, and that’s all about to go out the window.
Frankly, we should have made this transition sooner, his last school being adequate, but not really good enough for him for this last year. I had tried, but only half-heartedly because I was so caught up in the care of my dying 92-year-old father that it was impossible to throw myself fully behind anything as all encompassing as the search for a new school for Jacob. I am trying to set my guilt about this un-brilliant past year aside and move forward, but it’s a slog.
As it was, we nearly didn’t have a school for him for the coming year. This caused me a lot of “Momsomnia.” And we just squeaked in under the wire with a late June admission to this school, which is somehow, improbably and through the goodness and grace of the universe, we think (we hope) just the right place for Jake at this time. There is so much wonderful about this school that I can’t even begin to scratch the surface in singing its praises. You know how when you walk into a special needs school, you instantly get “the vibe” and it is either “this place is right” or “this place is so wrong”? Well, this was all the way right. And it doesn’t have anything to do with how high tech or fancy it is, with the bells and whistles, it’s this ineffable quality that the school is about the kids, and the kids are a good mix with yours.
And all my hunches were confirmed when we got accepted. The admissions director told me that after Jake’s school visit the teachers wanted him to transfer right away to their classroom, they so loved having him there, and wished there wasn’t only one week left to the school year. And then we got the loveliest acceptance letter in the history of acceptance letters. Because it was addressed to my son, not to us, his parents. Because he is the one going to that school and he is a person. (You can read the letter and what I wrote about it in my blog, here.)
And of course, it’s not perfect. There are uniforms involved, which will be a challenge for my son who has sensory issues, hates collars and buttons, and also has strong opinions about what he wants to wear on any given day. I am picturing it:
“I want a yellow shirt, mom”
“No, honey, white again today for school, yellow at home and on weekends.”
After months of t-shirts and shorts, I was so grateful for a cool day to start the transition. Today Jake wore pants. And hated every minute of it.
“I don’t LIKE pants, Mommy take them off!”
“No, Jake, it’s cool, you need pants.“
“Change my pants. I want RED pants.”
“No, Jake, you have to wear blue pants to school, we’re getting ready for school.”
“I don’t LIKE pants!”
All day. He doesn’t give up, he’s a scrapper. But better now with me, than at school with them. I figure in a week he’ll be resigned. I hope.
Also, there will be work to make sure the academics are challenging enough, since he is closer to grade level than the other kids in his class. His reading is fairly fluent, his math skills only a bit delayed, while his classmates will be mostly struggling with all that.
So why is this school a good fit? Because he learns academics fairly easily, when they are broken down the right way for him and repeated enough, something I’m sure the school can do. Especially with a little help from the wonderful, private, 1 on 1 ABA teacher who works with Jake at home a few hours a week. We can’t really afford her, but we can’t afford to lose her either. She makes all the difference in our world, in his, so we will do without, to keep her. She will spend time at the school with him, helping his new teachers to quickly learn about how my son learns and making sure they set the bar high enough for him, who can be sneaky and appear to be capable of less, if he thinks he can get away with it.
So the reason he is in this school: to make friends. Two years ago, my goals for Jacob were simple: to learn to read, and to have a friend. The first one has been met brilliantly, he is a reader. The other one: woefully unmet, and this tortures my son every day. He wants friends, he needs friends, he is ready for friends, but first he needs to learn how to be a friend. He has bucket-loads of social desire coupled with a thimbleful of social skills. He is too loud, too close, too repetitive, too demanding, too much for most kids to take on.
His old school was an all autism classroom, and while that was what he needed when he was 5, it is no longer anything that he needs at 8. When he goes up to classmates to talk to them, he needs those kids to turn towards him, to engage with him, not to turn away and ignore him. He needs kids who can model social interactions for him, not just the teachers.
At his new school, the students have a wide mix of special needs, and very few are on the autism spectrum. The kids are sweet, the kids are kind, and most importantly they are socially interested in each other. Their strengths and weaknesses will (hopefully) complement each other. He will help teach his classmates to read and do math, they will help him learn to be a friend (at least that's the plan.) It looks to be a win-win and I can’t wait.
If I can just get him to school on time, and in uniform. In the heavy black shoes (“I don’t LIKE shoes!”) Miracles can happen, can’t they?
Varda writes about "birth, death and all the messy stuff in the middle" on her blog "The Squashed Bologna: a slice of life in the sandwich generation" She is proud to be a Hopeful Parent.