Monday, March 17, 2014

A Better Kind of Spring

It’s been so long since I’ve written anything! I hate when I do that, and I think I figured out why it happened this time. I tend to write more when I’m struggling. It’s a means for me to get my own thoughts and feelings straight. I’m not sure why writing works for me, but it does! I want to share my struggles in the hopes that just one person would see it and might realize that they aren’t alone on this scary journey. I’ve gained so much insight and help from reading about other families that I hoped to pass a little of that on.

I guess that means the good news is that we aren’t struggling so much. It just sort of snuck up on me. All of a sudden every thought and action wasn’t tied up in something related to autism or figuring out what the next move is. All of a sudden we’re in a good place, Liam is happy, and we’re content with where things are. All of a sudden I’m back to thinking about taking care of other things and maybe even thinking about taking care of myself.

I think back to where I was this time last year. I was not in a good place. We were in the midst of preparations for the huge transition to public school and saying good-bye to full time ABA therapy. I was terrified. I was sure Liam would end up in a broom closet somewhere with people who didn’t care about him at all, scared to death and regressing into who knows what. I was preparing for the battle of a lifetime with the decision makers and the service providers at this school. I was considering leaving a great company simply because I was positive that Liam couldn’t handle before and after school care – and summer camp? Forget it.

None of my fears came true. Not one. The IEP team offered everything I was prepared to demand and defend. His teacher-to-be asked thoughtful questions about our son. The summer camp allowed Liam to become familiar with the school and the LOUD DRYERS and the playground and the gym and the fire alarms. He also met some kids that are the same kids he’s with before and after school. This group truly looks out for Liam. He started first grade and has definitely had some challenges, stumbling blocks, and meltdowns along the way. Homework is HARD, Friday test days are HARD, sitting still and being quiet are HARD, knowing how to talk to others is HARD. But he’s winning everyone over like he always does with his sweet self and his fascinating mind. Both his teacher and the resource teacher are accessible any time I need or want to chat. Liam just got his second invitation to a birthday party for a classmate. He has a group of girls who mother him and make sure he’s okay. He talks to the custodians and the lunch ladies and the nurse and the ladies in the office. He knows kids who aren’t in his class and what teachers they have. He is talking so much and saying things all the time that just shock us! He has come so far out of his shell that sometimes even I don’t recognize him. Liam LOVES everything about this school.

Liam is in a mainstream first grade class. No one would argue that he has the most aggressive first grade teacher in the building. He actually says that he wants his first graders to be ahead of all of the other first graders in the state. That would have been great for a kid like me, but for Liam it made me nervous. However, his teacher is great at getting to know each student and reach them where they are, and gets creative when he needs to. Liam has an aide in the classroom at all times who helps him to stay focused. He gets speech and OT, encouragement socializing on the playground if he is having trouble, and extra breaks during the day when he needs them. He takes his hardest tests in the resource room so there are fewer distractions. I get a head’s up when there are planned drills or assemblies so I can help prepare Liam. I can come to school whenever I want. Liam is getting good grades. When we got his first report card, he had a C in reading. At our parent-teacher conference, I asked if you can pass with C’s. Apparently C is average and is indeed a passing grade…Ha!!

Today I dropped Liam off at the before school care group, and on my way out, ran into his resource teacher. She said, “Hey Becca! Send me some dates and times that work for you and your husband for Liam’s IEP.” I said “Okay, do I need to call someone to schedule that?” She gave me this blank look and said, “No, I’m taking care of everything. Liam’s mine until he finishes fifth grade.” I know that as parents we have certain rights and can request certain things at certain times…I’m just so glad that this isn’t a constant fight. I’m so relieved that it really feels like we have a team. I’m not na├»ve enough to believe that we’ll never have to struggle with all of this again. If at any point this becomes not the right thing, then I’ll jump back in and figure out what is. For now, though, I’m going to rest knowing that Liam is in good hands. He’s come so far in the last year…and so have I!

I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter if the people at the school have specific experience and proven success with autism. What matters most is that the people that Liam is with every day care about him enough to get to know him and what makes him tick. That goes for every child, special needs or not. So far, I’ve seen this demonstrated over and over, and I believe that is why it works – not because they have tons of special training, but because they care.  

This is the first spring in several years that I haven’t been buried in one mess or another, and I intend to enjoy it!!