Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Off to Middle School. Nicky's Okay, Pray for the Mama!
I remember the roller coaster ride of finding the right elementary school for Nicky. It was so emotional as we enrolled and then left three schools in our area, because they were not able to accommodate his needs. It wasn't fun, but in the end we found an incredible local school with teachers and administrators that were open and willing to try full inclusion and work as a team so Nicky.
Tomorrow I'll enroll Nicky in his new school. The reality that we have left the safe haven of his elementary school and are entering the unknown again, has brought on that "mommy knot" in my stomach.
Half of my brain is excited and grateful that we found a public school where he will be in the general population and not isolated in a special education classroom. His new school boasts an environment where all kids are special, all are unique and each deserves to be nurtured as individuals. As a mom of a special needs kid, I have experienced that some schools really mean it; except for when it comes to our kids with autism, who represent the unknown. By welcoming us his new school has confirmed that they do think all kids have something to offer and all kids deserve a good education with opportunity, not just neuro typical kids. I don't expect that we won't have our challenges, but I'm encouraged that we are starting in a good place.
One local school found excuse after excuse to deny Nicky’s entry into a general education program I wanted for him. I gave up trying to get him in the school after receiving a phone message from the school saying "Hi, just calling to discuss if this school is r e a l l y the right place for Nicky and the other 33 children he would share the class with?”. This was not a very welcoming statement and I felt that her concern was not for Nicky, but for the other kids and maybe unequipped teachers. At that moment I stopped the battle to get in because I realized nothing would be gained by forcing him into a place where he was not wanted. I believe that she was worried about the problems she "believed" a student like Nicky would cause, and completely lacked any understanding of the gifts his presence would have been for the other students. I am also certain that this person was ignorant of the blatant discrimination and the pain it caused me to hear her bias. What I do know is that not having students like Nicky will be their loss. Nicky has so much to teach, he has talents typical kids don't have, he loves to learn and in elementary school he taught his peers and his teachers everyday. Over and over Nicky broke someone’s paradigm about disabilities, retardation and autism. It was a miraculous thing to watch and everyone benefited from his inclusion.
I pray that in his middle school experience - where the doors of tolerance and acceptance seem open - everyone will learn from this amazing little man!
The other half of my brain is worried that middle school will be an insensitive place filled with expectations that Nicky will not be able to meet. He won't easily blend in among the second language learners and kids who are at different stages development. Gone will be the sweet stereotypical kindergarten type teachers. Middle school is busy, fast-paced, the kids enter puberty, boys snap girls’ bra straps, they form clicks, kids have up to 6 teachers per day, they begin dating, judging others, the pressure of college begins, and social activities become everything.
Nicky still looks and acts like a little kid. I can't imagine what puberty will be like for him (or me. His clothes look hip because I hate that special needs kids dress like Erkel. His very hip therapist will help me pick the latest styles for him, so he looks good, but it’s not because Nicky cares. If he is interested in girls, I can't tell. If he wanted to talk to one, he couldn't do it. He would just jump up and down and make noises, stare at his hands and try to poke her in the tummy. Hot...NOT. He's not interested in any sports, and his passions are puzzles, letters, signing, animals, writing lists and videos - hardly middle school "In" stuff. At this moment, I just can't imagine how he will fit in. I can't imagine how he will feel because he doesn't have the ability to verbalize many of his feelings. I'm worried for him. His classmates in elementary school have loved him and taken care of him, and I wonder who will look out for him with the social pressures of middle school. And if no one does, how will that affect him? Will he feel the pain when he realizes his friends have moved on? Is now the time that he is going to become aware of how he is different? Is the time coming when I have to explain autism to him? Will he be sad and not able to tell me? Will I be able to help? Will he plateau now that he’s out of elementary school? Is a cure out of sight for him?
Then I take a deep breath and I am reminded that he's not scared. Nicky doesn't really know what middle school is, because he hasn't been there yet. Clearly, I’m the one who is not emotionally ready for Nicky to cross this bridge. I’m the one who is worried about the future I cannot see, not Nicky. He doesn't have any of my dread, and I envy him that. He's just anxious wondering if the new school will have a library and eyewitness videos.
As I think about it, we are as prepared as we can be. We have an all male behavioral support team that will be at school with him. So he won’t look funny with a girl aid and he can learn the man stuff that the girls can't teach him (you might want to read my post about urinals - very funny). I think they are the greatest male therapists on the planet and they will be there everyday. We even have one big guy, who is so cool the kids love to hang out with him. And he loves Nicky. I know Nicky will be safe, and his team will continue to protect him, teach him and create opportunities for him to make friends and fit in.
Some moms have even told me that their teenage kids made some of their greatest strides around age 11. So that is the picture I will hold up - not the image of my kid in a corner alone, sad, unable to communicate or understand his feelings.
Truth be told, no one around Nicky would let him sit in a corner alone, and Nicky can't sit still for more than 20 minutes anyway! I don't have to worry about that. Nicky will be okay. We will all be okay. Here's to the future and possibilities that are yet unknown to us.
Oh one more thing. This school goes through high school. So, god willing we won’t have to go through this for another 7 years! Yippee