I never take anything for granted. It’s a lesson learned from life in general but parenting specifically.
A case in point would be the first day of school this week. In some ways, I have been dreading this day for Carson, 11. When his routine and schedule gets rocked, his anxiety runs high, resulting in severe separation issues for an already shy, introverted child and behavioral concerns. The goal is always to keep him comfortable and avoid major disruptions to his routine. Of course, there’s no getting around school. He must go and it’s been a full month since summer school ended.
Thinking ahead to the first day, I asked Pam Monday night if she foresaw any concerns with Carson’s first day and whether he would have any issues leaving me and going into school. She thought it was a 50-50, which surprised me. I was feeling confident he was good to go. Well, it turns out moms knows best, as if I didn’t know that already.
The first day of in-person learning last year was a tremendous challenge. I will never forget rushing out of the room and his teachers restraining him from chasing after me. Similar scenes have unfolded on other first days. It’s tough stuff.
For a neurotypical parent, this must sound silly. After all, a sixth grader should certainly be fine leaving a parent to go into school on the first day. I get it because we have a “typical” 13-year-old who runs as fast as he can away from us most of the time even if it’s into school.
The truth is life with a kid on the spectrum is atypical and unpredictable. It’s why we assume nothing. We hope for the best in all situations but prepare for the worst. It’s a defense mechanism of sorts.
The biggest stress of some days – and the first day of school would certainly qualify – is ensuring Carson’s day starts on a positive note so he transitions well into school. It’s why on school mornings we don’t use the typical dropoff lane at Berlin Intermediate. During a rough spell last year, I started parking across the street and making the longer walk. It got us through a challenging time in school and has subsequently become our new routine even in the rain.
On the first day of school this week, I wanted to try and get back into the drop lane. Carson quickly rebuffed, and it was not a battle I wanted. It was all about getting him into school on a high note.
The first morning represented the first time he has seen his beloved educational assistant since June. They are buddies and have a great rapport. His EA gets Carson and knows the way to his heart is through humor. Mr. DJ was armed and ready for the first day. He had one of the therapy dogs with him and was ready with some jokes.
Mr. DJ fully knew there was not going to be any running hugs from Carson. It’s not his way right now. On this day, Carson didn’t even acknowledge him for some reason. He hid behind me like he had never met him or the principal. Mr. DJ persisted, telling a story how he had a dream about Carson this summer and that he had gotten a big shark tattoo on his leg. He looked to see if his dream was a reality, joking he was relieved to see it was not.
It was smart of Mr. DJ, and I appreciated the effort. When Carson didn’t loosen up his grip on me, Mr. DJ dug deep for other material as did I. We were in a tough spot and Carson was not letting go of me. Therefore, I walked into school with him to help ease some concerns. We talked briefly how his day was going to start. Mr. DJ again went deep into his reservoir of trick, encouraging Carson to hide underneath a desk and jump scare Ms. K when she came in. When we finally got him inside a room – not his classroom –Carson buried his head on the desk and cried. After a few minutes, Mr. DJ and I agreed I was getting out of there. It was the only way.
It’s a horrible feeling bailing on your kid, but the best thing was to roll. Once Carson realized he was there and I was gone, I worried about his reaction. I assume it was not a positive situation, but about an hour later we got a photo from his teacher of Carson and Mr. DJ giggling over something. It was at that moment Pam and me could breathe and move on with our day.
Later that night, Pam talked with him and he admitted to being nervous and that tomorrow would be better. We talked up the fun things he did at school and how everyone must go learn.
Fast forward to the second day of school and I’m happy to report he transitioned perfectly into school like the hundreds of other kids that morning. As we approached Mr. DJ on the sidewalk, he briefly grabbed my arm and looked like he was about to hide behind me as he had the first day. He quickly giggled and looked at me. He was playing me. He got me good and I was relieved. Though it sounds ridiculous again to those who don’t know, I was so excited my 11-year-old son went inside school without any issues. I am relieved when every morning plays out as it should. It’s our reality.
As the Tom Petty song Walls goes, “Some days are diamonds, some days are rocks, some doors are open, some roads are blocked.”
Somedays Autism wins. Somedays – most of them — we overcome the disability. Every tomorrow represents a new day. The concept of new beginnings is never lost. We always keep trying to get it right. We will keep on keeping on.