Okay. I think we’re ready now. The supplies have been purchased, the backpacks have been packed, the fees have been paid, the papers filled out. The anxiety has set in.
Yes, there’s nothing like the start of a new school year to ramp up my stress level. I know – everybody’s busy running around, getting the ducks in a row, the usual for those of us with kids in school. For me, it’s not really about that. It’s that year after year my PTSD kicks in every time the phone rings. And I’m referring, of course, to the years and years of teachers and school administrators calling me at work to tell me that my son is having behavioral issues and I must leave work and come to get him. The phone rings and I instantly tense up. In recent years, with caller ID, the tensing doubles when I see “school district” on the screen. God help me, it’s a horrible feeling. It’s an alarm, a pre-panic, a dread. And it used to happen on a regular basis, but especially at the beginning of the school year.
Today, the first day of tenth grade (!), there were no calls. That doesn’t mean that there won’t be any later, I know better than that. But it’s a good start, and I’m grateful for it. Here’s what else I’m grateful for: a very positive IEP meeting last week. Some of you might recall how the last IEP meeting went, and how much I had prepared for it. I prepared for this one just as much because it was just as important. In fact, in some ways, this one was more important. The meeting in May was about getting the school district to agree that Nigel’s academic needs, since he could not work independently, would be better met in a specialized setting. They didn’t agree, but they didn’t offer any alternatives.
So I came up with an alternative on my own. Over the summer, I researched various programs in public high schools with good special education departments. I thought, what are they doing that we could emulate? I printed out course descriptions from some of those schools that included specialized classes designed for students with autism to teach them the executive function skills they need to be able to work independently, which is exactly what Nigel needs. I also researched various books written for educators on how to teach executive function skills to students like Nigel, and I printed out descriptions of the books off of Amazon. I went to the IEP meeting, print-outs in hand, and proposed that the school create a weekly class on executive function skills for Nigel and any other students who would benefit from it (and of course there are other students who would, even if they do not have an ASD).
And they said yes. They said yes not only to meeting my son’s needs, but to setting the precedent for future ASD kids at that school (and, as we know, there will be more). They said yes to being an even better school. They said yes to the other kids who really need some extra help with learning how to be a good student, autistic or not, but whose parents may not lobby as hard as I do. They said yes.
And this mom is feeling a lot less anxiety, a lot less dread. In fact, I’m feeling pretty excited about this school year. I’ll even try not to cringe when the phone rings.