Back to school. Doesn’t it evoke great memories? The smell of new reams of paper, freshly sharpened pencils, brand new sneakers … I love this time of year. It’s such a build up for kids, parents, and teachers. For us there’s an added layer; but that just means a little more prep.
Of course, we have three kids. Three separate trips to the mall or to the outlets looking for just the right look for Back to School. Everybody gets their day out with Mom and Dad; their chance to feel special and doted upon. We love it, too.
Juggling time with all three kids is probably the hardest thing about having so many. I knew when we went to having more kids than parents, we’d be in trouble. The switch from man-to-man to zone defense has been tricky. Things were so much easier when I took one, Beth took the other, and life was simple. For sure, three is more complicated, but when you’re buried beneath three kids on the couch while watching TV, it’s hard to imagine life with less than three. Anyway, the usual amount of preparation that goes into getting a kid “Back to School” isn’t enough at our house. Gabe and Liv get their new sneakers, their updated backpacks (if necessary), all their school supplies and a half-bureau filled with new fashion. We find out who their teachers are going to be and when they have gym, so they know when they HAVE to wear sneakers and bring shorts. We get the cafeteria menu and plan for cold lunch days. We make the obligatory stop to Sam’s Club to buy bulk snacks for school and cases of Capri Sun.
And then there’s Jake. He needs a little bit more. Preparation and forethought, whenever possible, is the key to thriving and surviving with autism. Beth used to interview teachers and meet with the principal to give her input on who she thought would mesh best with Jake. We have at least two meetings with Special Ed, Administration, Classroom teachers and Ed Techs prior to the first of the year. Jacob’s Individualized Education Plan is reviewed, amended and discussed. His routine is set and tweaked when necessary. He participates in “Extended School Year.” ESY sounds much more acceptable than summer school.
By the time we get around to Sept 3rd, there’s been a lot of work done. It’s a family affair dropping Jake off. He knows EXACTLY when to leave the house to get there on time and to minimize wait time (7:26). He knows which door he’s to enter (the side one, not the one everyone else uses – too busy). He knows exactly where Mrs. McKinnon’s room is (third on the left). When we arrive, the five of us head up the hill and into the middle school. We go directly to his classroom where we meet the homeroom teacher, the 1:1 Ed Tech assigned to him, and his Special Ed teacher. He already knows which desk is his. He’s already helped put his “morning routine” checklist together.
Everything that could be thought of has been thought of. Wrinkles have been smoothed out; hurdles overcome. Now, it’s just time to swallow those lumps in our throats and turn our son over to his new caregivers from 7:30-2:00, Monday-Friday.
I can’t pretend it’s easy; it never is. You can only hope things work out as planned, because if not, he may not be able to tell us. We’re very fortunate to be part of a small community where we’re known and where Jake is loved. Each year he seems to have more and more people in his corner, rooting for his success. For this, we are eternally grateful.
Post-script: Jake came walking out of school today with a smile on his face. He’s been repeating over and over, “I love Mrs. McKinnon!” and “I love my school!” At home, he said, “I had the BEST Mrs. McKinnon day EVER!” He even talked animatedly on the phone with his grandmother (for the first time) when she called to ask about his day.
One day down, one hundred seventy to go. Wish us luck.