March 7, 2016
This past week a momentous event occurred when the principal of Justin’s school called out of the blue to speak to me. Of course as soon as I saw the caller ID my stomach dropped as I waited to hear whether he had a fever or the stomach flu, because that always seems to be the case when his wonderful school calls. But this time, the universe gave me a pass. He only wanted to talk about Justin’s future.
It seems my boy is growing up and moving on to a middle elementary classroom. How that happened when just yesterday he was a toddler is beyond my comprehension.
I was invited in to see the classroom, and I made the appointment eagerly. Of course I also had to deal with my reluctance for him to leave his current classroom/teacher (I get attached) before the end of the school year, as I usually need time to mentally prepare for any changes for Justin.
Ironically I think he handles big changes better than me.
Justin is in a fantastic private autism school, one that has fit him like a glove since he was seven. I have absolute trust in the educational decisions they make for my son, so I was confident going in that I would like his new environment.
I was not disappointed.
Justin is non-verbal for the most part, but academic. While he is far from a seventh grade level he can read, do simple math, does phonics and spelling, and is a whiz on technology (seriously, he is better than me at some things, which isn’t doing him justice). It is very important to me that he stay on an academic track, not because he will go to college or live independently (he won’t), but because this is his opportunity to learn, and he enjoys it. So I went in hoping he would continue in this vein, and be surrounded by peers doing the same.
And to my delight, he will be.
Justin will be on the younger side in this classroom, and as I looked around at the teenaged boys comprising this new classroom I was so relieved to see them working with an aide or independently as well, and that they all most importantly seemed happy. His new teacher seemed adept at the organization required to run eight independent programs (my hat off to her,) described outings they would take, and told me about the general demeanor of the classroom, which from what I could see was positive.
Positive for Justin is key.
I spent about twenty minutes in there, then had a brief conference with the principal afterwards. He promised me Justin would get to visit the classroom over the next few weeks and that his new teacher would be able to observe him in his current environment. The former will be crucial to Justin because he will have to be made to understand that this is his new room, and it may be difficult for him to transition to a new locale after working in the other one for six years.
Hell, it would be difficult for me.
I’m confident that he can handle it. He’s come so far from the five-year-old who had a sit-down strike on the sidewalk of his new school after having been in an out-of-district placement he loved for two years (my husband followed his bus that morning, he said his stamina was quite remarkable.) He’s shown a flexibility I would have died for years ago, has achieved huge milestones in self-care and in sleeping in a bed not his own (thank God for Disney), and has accepted change in myriad other forms with little resistance.
In a nutshell, he has made much more progress in the last few years than I ever would have thought possible.
And it struck me as I pulled out of the parking lot of his school, still awash in the glow of what’s next for my boy, that I’ve often forgotten over the years that autistic kids mature too, even if it may not be on a “typical” timeline, or one of our choosing. When things have been stressful over the years I’ve often felt stuck in whatever difficulty we’ve been experiencing, whether it be his insomnia, refusal to eat, an aggressive phase, or a religious adherence to OCD. I’ve have forgotten that most of these struggles are cyclical, and eventually stop. I’ve forgotten in the past that Justin matures too in his own way and on his own schedule, and that many of the things I’ve worried obsessively about have eventually just disappeared.
I’ve often not seen the forest for the trees. I wish I had.
And as I do my careful merge onto the parkway I remind myself that I truly have so little control over anything (this will continue to irk me to my grave,) and that so far things have had a way of working out, even if they haven’t been my plan A, B or even my plan C. I have to remember to revel in the times where things are good, to enjoy the “sweet spot” that we’ve generally been in the last few years. I have to remember that despite his severe autism, my son loves his life, is productive, safe, and happy.
And I have to remember to be happy too.
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