Little Man’s speech therapist called yesterday to give me some good news and an update on his progress. It seems he’s been fighting against leaving class for his sessions with her (usually Thursday afternoons). In typical Little Man style, if you give him some control over the situation, he will come at it more easily. So she let him choose his time. He decided mornings would be best. She couldn’t believe the difference in him – he was chatty, engaging, witty, funny, cooperative. That’s my boy. By the afternoons, he’s tapped out. All his defenses are down. He’s reaching maximum capacity, if he hasn’t gone wheels-off already. In the morning, he has a wealth of resources and energy. He’s capable of more work then. So he will stay with Thursday morning sessions. She thought I deserved to hear some good news rather than just the hard stuff. Have I mentioned she’s awesome?
This girl comes at autism with experience. Her sister is autistic, and much like my Little Man. She said something yesterday that just made things click for me, and for LM’s teacher. He’s been struggling with math. His teacher is aware of this. His anxiety is ramping up, making it difficult for him to function during math time. The speech teacher put it this way – Imagine knowing your house is going to be broken into at any moment, while you’re in it. Are you able to focus on anything other than your fear and anxiety about that imminent break-in? No. That’s how he feels in the classroom. He knows something is coming that is particularly hard for him. It’s causing him anxiety and fear, so he’s completely incapable of focusing on a worksheet of math problems. And yet we’re surprised when he starts to cry or shuts down. She said to the teacher and the rest of his team, let’s keep presenting him with the expected academics, but let’s focus on the emotional/social/anxiety stuff this year. This is all new to him – new building, new teacher, new team, new classmates, new routine, new way of teaching/learning. That’s entirely too much new to expect him to function the level he was last year. Let’s give him this year to settle in, get used to everything. The academics will come. He’s never suffered in the past, even the year he spent most of his time outside of the classroom. He’s academically capable. Let’s help him every other way.
I was processing this on the drive this morning. I’ve been getting upset he can’t keep it together all day every day at school. We have him down to a breakdown just once a day, which is a huge improvement. He’s in class more than he’s out of it. I wanted so much for him to just continue the path he was on last year. I wanted him to fit in, not be a disruption in class, not need so much. I recalled this feeling of needing normal – it goes back to when Big Man was little, and I wanted to stop thinking about adjusted ages, potential developmental delays, extra shots and weight checks, starting Kindergarten “on time”. We spent 8 months leading up to when he could have started kindergarten deciding if we would start him or not. I needed “normal”. But we realized his normal was different. And that was okay. His normal was what was best for him, not what it was for everyone else. I’ve never regretted the decision to hold him out a year.
I need to give Little Man his normal, which doesn’t look like everyone else’s normal. I need to be okay with that. His educational experience isn’t going to look like that of a neurotypical child. He’s going to cry. He’s going to have to be pulled out for services. He’s going to have stuff on his desk other kids don’t have, like headphones, a bracelet to indicate his ability to engage, his zones of regulation flip book, his comfort box. He’s going to have extra snacks at school to help him get through the day. And his academic days may not look like that of everyone else in his class. He’s still going to reach the same end-point. He’s just going to do it his way. I need to let go my need for him to follow a certain path. He’s making his own path. While my momma heart struggles with the emotions of that, he will be so much better off if I just let go, and give him permission to do this how he needs.
Don’t think I’m not crying as I type this. It sucks he has to learn to function in a world not designed for him, and it sucks watching him struggle every day to do that. But it will be easier for him if he knows it’s okay to do this his way, not the “normal” way. If I stop putting those expectations on him, even quietly, his life will be a little bit easier, because if his own mother is inadvertently wanting him to fit in a certain box, how can he expect the rest of the world to accept him the way he is?