Every school year I go through the same routine. I worry, I buy school supplies...I worry some more....I give the new mainstream teacher a complete rundown in the five minutes I have to meet her...I worry again...and I cry all the way home from back to school night.
This year we walked down familiar halls to a new room. Oh this room is bright and beautiful. There is a colored mat in the corner with a white rocking chair that Chandler immediately claims as his own. He rocks nervously while I introduce myself to Mrs. T, and fill out all the boring insurance papers, a little form about your likes and strengths, and find your desk. Always placed right next to the teacher's. Mrs T. has a little bag of candy on each desk, I see a snickers and know you hate those, so I will be eating that on the way home in a chocolate attempt to feel better. She asks all the parents to leave a message on the board for their child on the first day of school. I would imagine this is to make the kids feel more comfortable having a message from mom, dad, or in some cases Grandma, so they feel a connection to home. I get tears in my eyes as I hold the whiteboard marker poised midair, wondering if you will care about this message at all. A little girl with big beautiful eyes is staring at me. She says softly "I remember you!" Oh Emma, I remember you too. "You do?" I say cheerfully. Her dad looks puzzled. "I came to your classroom last year and did a project on autism. I'm Chandler's mom." She nods and smiles, "I know!" My heart melts, and it is everything I can do to hold back the tears. I have another year of education with all the new faces I see as I look around. Getting to know Chandler and what it is to have a child in their classroom with autism is an ironclad goal for me every year, and I always wonder if I am reaching them. But I also want Chandler to have a year of friends and fun, with little worries. I write on the board in red block letters. Chandler. Have a fun first day of school. Love, Mom.
We now leave mainstream second grade classroom because Chandler is stressed out. He knows just where he is going. His autism classroom at the end of the hall. He bursts through the door, and I see Dawn and Kim, his main instructor and speech person, who are now part of our lives. He runs to check out his desk. It is still there. He notices all the new things about the room, the swing in the reading corner, the fact that his desk is empty from last summer. He finds a squishy ball with a tag on it, which he promptly brings to Kim and she cuts it off. He bounces happily around the room. I let out a huge sigh of relief. My dearest friend Kate is here with daughter Emily. Emily will be in this room with Chandler part of the day, as she is starting Kindergarten. I hear Kate talking to the teachers and her words are a mile a minute. Nervous about Kindergarten, this is a huge step. I grin at Emily who is making her way around the room with a broken toe wrapped in lovely pink and purple. She is wide eyed and exploring the room. Thank God I have another mom as school support now. It always feels better. Emily and Chandler have desks next to each other in this room, but Emily is not interested in her desk. Chandler frowns at her. I laugh to myself. It's like having your sister in your classroom. I think to myself I might not cry this time on the way home. I do anyway. Please God, let this year go well. Let the kids as they get older try to understand that Chandler may not speak, but he can understand. Please want to get to know this sweet and intelligent boy. He is not autism, he's my son.