I walk down the hallway with a hundred other parents who are here for Back to School Night, noting the brightly colored tiles of tiny handprints from students of years past. Grinning teachers greet parents at every door, and I remind myself to pay attention so I don’t get lost (as I often do). I’m actually one of the first to find Zach’s classroom, and am warmly welcomed by his teacher, special education teacher (my son has mild autism and ADHD) and an intern lucky enough to be placed with this class for the fall.
I quickly locate my son’s seat and squeeze myself into his tiny chair, wondering how anyone can seem both so big and so small at the same time. I look around as the other parents begin to file in, and smile at the mom next to me whose son shares a table with mine. I have to admit, I’m thrilled to be here.
This is Zach’s mainstream kindergarten class, and so far, he’s thriving.
It was a difficult deciding what program to place him in this fall, but with the support of his excellent pre-school teacher and his equally wonderful child study team, we came to the consensus that Zach should try mainstreaming in the morning portion of his school day on day one. We discussed easing him into it at first, but I felt strongly he should have the whole experience at the get-go, and see if he could handle it.
He had some experience in a “typical” classroom a few times a week in pre-school, and he’d done pretty well there, despite his impulsivity. My gut told me however that if Zach were going to “buy into” a larger classroom experience, that he needed to be part of the community from day one.
As with everything with Zach (and almost every other child on the planet) I also knew if he loved it there, he’d do what he needed to do to stay.
I look down at the colorful folder Zach’s produced for the evening, the one with a familiar T-Rex grinning at me from orange construction paper, teeth bared in a menacing pose. I think about how proud I am of him, how he’s worked so hard to acclimate to a different experience, how much he’s matured in a matter of six months. I contemplate how I’m equally proud of my older child with severe autism, my son whose teacher writes reports weekly about how hard he’s working in his private school for autism, how his smiles and enthusiasm for most activities light up the place.
There was a time when I desperately wanted a mainstream experience for Justin as well, but in the end, the almost individualized instruction coupled with a staff well-versed in all things autism turned out to be the best placement for him. The fact that we’ve made this match, and it’s working out so beautifully, renders me eternally grateful.
As I turn my attention back to the special education teacher who is lucky enough to be spending her first year with this group of children, I think about why I want this to work so much for my youngest. It’s not the allure of “normal” (whatever that is) kindergarten, for I’ve long ago accepted there really is no “typical” child, or adult for that matter. It’s more that Zach seems to walk at times between two worlds, that of children with special needs, and the one in which most of us inhabit. For my son there will simply be more options available to him in the latter, particularly as he grows older. He’s so eager and curious to try new things, new experiences. I want him to have access to a full “life buffet”.
A food analogy always seem to work for me as well.
Fairly quickly Zach’s teachers wrap up their session as the PM kindergarten parents wait patiently at the door, and I gather my papers together and get ready to move on to Zach’s self-contained classroom. All three of his teachers assure me how well my boy is doing, how much they enjoy having him in their classroom. I assure them the feeling is mutual, and thank them for their efforts.
They are clearly caring and enthusiastic professionals, as are the women who care for Zach in the second part of his day. Once again, my family has seemed to hit the jackpot for teachers and aides. Both of my boys have the resources and educators they need to be successful. The rest is up to them.
And thankfully, I believe both of them will soar.