In the big scheme of things, this blog is meant to be about my son’s continued attempts at kicking autism’s ass. Unfortunately, I’ve gotten away from that lately and I apologize.
Young Matt is now entering the second half of 4th grade. So much can (and has) happened since his first day back in August and I’ve been lackadaisical in my attempts to share.
New teacher. New aides.
Children with autism thrive on consistency. Knowing what to expect on a daily basis and having a dependable schedule to follow can be comforting and helps keep emotions and anxiety at bay. Adjusting on-the-fly to change is not always easy for someone on the spectrum.
I’ll never forget when Matt was in kindergarten and he went out to the bus one the morning as he had done for weeks, if not months, prior. Yet that day, he became agitated, upset and was refusing to get on the bus. He started to cry hysterically and the reason wasn’t one that you’d expect: there was a substitute driver.
It wasn’t Ms. Debbie (if I remember her name correctly). His pattern had changed and he wasn’t happy.
To the rest of us, it was rather insignificant; a blip in routine. To Matt, it was obviously much more. And while he has come such a long way with facing changes head-on, they are still something we worry about; especially when they might not be so, uhh, minimal.
A few weeks into the new school year, Matt’s teacher of three years left to take a more prominent role in the school district’s special needs program. To say she had a strong, positive and steady influence on Matt is an understatement (though truth be told, I think he had her wrapped around his little finger as well.)
This truly worried both my wife and I. How would Matt react? What would his new teacher be like? How would the other kids behave as a result of this change? Could any of this affect his progress of moving towards more integration into the mainstream fourth-grade class?
We prepared him for it. We had to. We reminded him almost daily about the wonderful work that his soon-to-be-former teacher had done for him and would continue to do for others. We assured him that his new teacher would be just as great. Now was the time for him to show everyone (again) just how far he has come.
He could handle this. He just had to be positive.
Turns out, we were more worried than Matt. What we thought could be a very big deal, was no deal at all. Which goes to show just how far he’s come with his autism and dealing with transitions, changes and adversity.
Every year, my wife and I meet with Matt’s teachers, principal and others to discuss his goals and benchmarks for the current year as well as creating new ones for the upcoming school year.
Not surprisingly, Matt continues to blow by most of his stated goals. Granted, he still has his struggles (primarily in reading comprehension and handwriting), but it seems as if the more we put in front of him, the more he accomplishes.
Currently, he splits his time about 50-50 between the mainstream fourth grade classroom and his special needs class. For the rest of the school year, however, the plan is to increase that to around 80-20 with the longer term goal of full integration into the mainstream classroom starting in grade five.
Read that again and perhaps a little slower: full integration into the mainstream classroom starting in grade five.
This will include receiving “regular” report cards and grades like everyone else gets. It will mean more homework. It will also mean taking the exact same state achievement/aptitude/merit tests as his peers.
It means higher standards and expectations.
This move is ultimately what we had hoped for and prayed for since that emotional day when we first heard Matt’s diagnosis of autism. It’s what Matt, himself, has worked so very hard for these last seven years.
Not surprisingly, though, Matt’s even feeling anxious about this change. This is a big one. I think he’s hesitant to let go of the comfort – and perhaps ease – of a special needs classroom that has been a big part of his life for most of his life.
In order to reach new heights, we constantly need to raise the bar. And although I’m not so sure Matt understands this concept yet, it doesn’t matter.
What matters is that Matt lives it every day.