Letters + The First Day

The Roc and I skipped the chaos of the elementary school open house at the end of August, and opted instead to schedule a private time for him to see his new fourth grade classroom and to meet the new autism teacher.  This private meeting is something we’ve done since he started school, and I am always relieved that everyone is willing to accommodate him in this way.  The morning of our meeting, while he played in my big bathtub, I sat on the floor and asked him questions about school, what he liked and disliked and if there was anything he wanted the new teachers to know before school started.  I also tried to get him to tell me what things the teachers could do to help him if he was having a hard time, but he couldn’t tell me.  I took notes and used them to type up a letter.  I read it to him and he approved (mostly to get me to stop talking about school I suspect.)

Here are the Roc’s words, (except the first two sentences which I added) his first foray into self advocacy:

Dear Teachers,

My name is the Roc and I am in your class this year.  I want you to know a little about me.  I have autism and sometimes it is hard for me to stay calm.  I feel nervous about school when I don’t know to expect.  I don’t know the kids in my class.  I am also nervous about what will happen during the day (my schedule) and I like to know what comes next.  I am worried about what to do at recess and who will play with me. 

I hope I have a teacher helper again this year.  I need help and they help me in the classroom.  Then I don’t have to wait for the teacher who has to help everyone else.

I am good at recess and running.  I also like gym.  Daily 5 isn’t my favorite.  Reading and math are hard for me and I always have to do work.  Work is hard and I get frustrated.

Roc

***

Yesterday I followed that letter up with an email to the people who work with the Roc everyday at school:

Hello Team Roc!

With the new school year starting tomorrow I thought I would send you all a little note about how the Roc is doing since school let out in May and what we have been working on this summer.  I thought this would be good for those of you who have never worked with the Roc before.  🙂

We believe that the Roc’s success is a team effort and we are always available to answer any questions and we hope to communicate with you all as the year goes on.  We take our responsibility as part of this team very seriously and will gladly take any suggestions you have in regards to helping the Roc grow academically, socially and emotionally.

The Roc has had a good summer and went to a few weeks of ESY before we headed to SC to visit family for the month of July, he also participated in a day camp through True Friends as well as a 4 day social skills camp at the end of August.

As evidenced in the letter he gave to Mrs. fourth grade and Ms. autism teacher when we had our private “open house,” the Roc knows that he is autistic and he knows that he has a harder time staying calm than other kids.  He has expressed this summer that he doesn’t like that he is different and he wishes his brain worked like everyone else.  We are working hard to build his self esteem and show him that he is so much more than autism.  We want him to like himself and be happy with who he is.

The Roc is still having a hard time with mimicking other children to get a reaction.  He displayed this behavior with his cousins this summer and also during day camp.  We have been talking a lot about other people’s feelings and I recently bought a self-control & empathy workbook to do with Rocco.  Just a heads up that this is still an issue.
The Roc has been obsessing over spiderwebs for awhile and it has gotten so bad that he won’t eat if he sees one (my house is very clean now.)  I do not know if he will talk about this at school, but if you see him scanning the ceiling and all the nooks and crannies of a room–he is probably searching for spiderwebs.  I welcome any suggestions anyone may have in how we can help him overcome his spiderweb issue.
The Roc has been twisting up the left side of his shirts for many months now.  I bought a bunch of hand fidgets and while he does like to have something in his hands, he still twists up his shirt.  We are not calling attention to it anymore as he was getting very upset when we talked about it too much.
The Roc loves, loves, loves plants vs. zombies on his iPad.  He probably won’t talk about it at school because he said, “zombies aren’t appropriate for school and I don’t want to get an FYI.”    He has made up his own zombie game at home which he calls nerf gun vs. zombies.  We use a behavior chart at home that is plants vs. zombies themed and he earns tokens for positive behaviors and we take tokens away for offenses.
The Roc loves a good joke and is starting to be able to tell when people are joking with him. He loves to tell jokes, but needs a little work on coming up with them on his own.  🙂  (C told him to think of a few things that would help him have a good week this week and jokes came up.)  He doesn’t quite understand when people laugh because he said something funny when he didn’t mean to.
The Roc has a hard time looking people in the eye and he has told me it is because he doesn’t know what they are thinking.  I have told him he can look at someone’s forehead instead of their eyeballs if this makes him more comfortable.
Please know that we are always available to answer any questions or concerns you may have and we love to hear when you notice progress in the Roc. Feel free to pass this along to anyone else who works with the Roc.
Good luck tomorrow!
***

Last night the Roc freaked out a bit at bedtime (understatement) and even though he said he was mad because I let him play the iPad too long (I did) and I’m not tough enough to make him stop (Yesterday I wasn’t.  Hello end of summer, hanging on by my fingernails, whatever works) I also knew it was because school is starting back up.  I was proved right when he started to scream, “I hate my life!  I don’t want to go to stupid school!  It’s boring!” when I told him to get his pjs on and teeth brushed because he had to get some sleep before school.  Bedtime turned into an hour long cool down session with the white board.  I wrote what was making him angry: Plants vs. Zombies 2, the dog staring at him, and his clothes not going where he wanted them to when he tried to fling them from the second floor down into the family room.  Then I wrote some solutions/options to what was making him angry:  Stop playing the game forever, or for a few days, take a break, take a deep breath, call up the inventors of Plants vs. Zombies 2 and tell them they are greedy, stupid heads who made the game way too hard.  I wrote more silly stuff for the dog staring and clothes flinging issues and was delighted when he burst out laughing.  We eventually wrote out his morning schedule and I drew a map at the bottom of how to get to his classroom.  He didn’t want to talk about school, only asking if he would still ride the van instead of the bus.

***

It wasn’t as hard to get him up and out the door as I thought it would be this morning.  He did what he usually does on school days and dragged his feet through the morning routine causing him to run out of time to read (I read to him, either books from the library or Harry Potter) before the BUS came.  Oh my, it was a bus and not the van!  It’s been a van for three years!  The only thing he asked me the night before school started was if the van was going to pick him up and I hurriedly said, “Yup, of course!  You don’t ride the big bus, you ride the van.”  The look he gave me when a big bus stopped at the end of our driveway was of pure and utter shock.  He was speechless.  Lucky for him the bus driver seems super, duper nice and he asked me a bunch of questions while the bus aide (an aide on the bus!  Yay!) showed him to his seat.

I got an email during the day from Mrs. fourth grade saying that he was doing great in her room and was “delightful,” as well as thanking me for the earlier email with all the info on the Roc, that it helped her immensely.  I also got an email from Ms. autism teacher this evening stating that the Roc had a wonderful day, was a lot of fun, was nice to a younger student in her room, and only had one hiccup which involved him not being able to take another student’s perspective when they were upset.  I was glad to get these emails as the Roc would only tell me that he had fun at recess and then all he wanted to talk about for the rest of the evening was Halloween, plants vs. zombies, and what we could bake next (we bake together every week.)

We we made it!  First day of fourth grade over and done!

Obligatory first day of school pic:

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1st Day of 1st Grade

The Roc started 1st grade two weeks ago, and again I did a little hop as I closed the door on another summer.  It may sound callous, mean spirited, or even that I am not a very good mother to want my son to go back to school, for us to have some time apart…but it’s the truth.  There it is, and I’m willing to own that truth.

So much so that I had to giggle at all the facebook statuses I saw leading up to the first day of school.  Back in Delaware school starts earlier than here in Minnesota, so I was seeing some of my mom friends writing about shedding a few tears as the the bus pulled away, or even how a few of them followed said bus to school and then cried the whole way home.  I read through some of the comments left on one mom’s status,

“Aw, sending you love… It’s hard, I was there last year. Big hugs.”

“Aw, you’re such a great mom. I still tear up too no matter what age the kids get.”

” The 1rst & the last were the absolute hardest for me..but I cried with every one.”

” I sobbed as my baby girl left too…it goes by so fast!!!”

” ‎:-( I feel your pain…hang in there mama!!”

“I did the same thing with my youngest…cried all day!”

and I had to leave a comment of my own, which apparently resonated with no one on her friends list,

” I guess I’m in the minority. I did a happy jig when Roc went to K! Lol. (but he rode the bus to prek so that’s when I was a twisted up.)”

In actuality I was all twisted up when I left him in his special ed preschool class for the first time when he was 3.5 years old, not when he eventually rode the bus to preschool later that same year.  I cried so hard I could hardly see the parking lot and get to my car.  I did cry the whole way home that day.  But not because my baby was going to school, but because he was going to a special preschool because he has autism.  I worked and worked to get him evaluated and into school where he would get some help as soon as I figured out he was on the spectrum.  When I finally dropped him off for his first 2.5 hours of special preschool I felt shredded.  No one but a special needs parent really knows how that feels.

So I welcomed the start of school with joy this year.  We had such an eventful summer, so full of big life changes that we needed to get some balance back.  Because we need our routine.  He needs his routine.  And he needs his services to start back up, speech, occupational therapy, friendship group, and social skills group.  He needs to be around other children.  He needs more people working with him, challenging him, to keep him stretching and growing.

I was also looking forward to seeing how this first year would play out at this new school, with all new (to us) teachers and administrators.  I worked hard to get a good program set up for the Roc in Delaware and so I was nervous going to our first official IEP meeting a week before school started here in Minnesota.  I was pleasantly surprised at how nicely that meeting went, we still tape recorded it, I still wore my IEP outfit, I still came with my big binders of information about the Roc, and my notebook of questions, concerns, and points that were really important to me, but it went better than I had anticipated.

They didn’t try to remove any of the services we had upp’d in Delaware and the special ed teacher had already worked in a “motor break” for the Roc that would happen each day after he’d been in school 2 hours.  The social skills group would actually be a social skills group in this school as opposed to just the Roc and the school social worker, as it was in Delaware last year, because he was the only one who had the educational label of autism in his kindergarten center, therefore he was the only one eligible for the social skills group.  The friendship group is something separate from the social skills group, and again, new to us this year.  When I raised concerns about how chaotic recess and lunch would be for the Roc, they had a suggestion right away – that the Roc would get to leave recess a few minutes early, head into the cafeteria with a couple other children, find his lunch bag, and get started at his table.  Again, before lunch is over, the Roc is allowed to leave a few minutes early with a few other children (who presumably cannot handle the chaos of the whole 1st grade leaving lunch at.the.same.time) and head to a story time.  I was impressed by all the teachers who will be working with the Roc and how excited they were to get him this year.  We left the meeting feeling cautiously optimistic.

The Roc and I skipped the craziness that is open house and instead went to the school at an alternate time so he could see his locker, his classroom, put his stuff in his desk, and meet all of his new teachers and therapists.  He was able to tell them that he would be anxious on the first day and articulate that he was worried he wouldn’t know where his classroom was.  The special ed teacher immediately came up with a solution and made him a tag that said his name, grade, and teacher, and we put it on his backpack so if he was lost and tongue-tied, he would be pointed in the right direction.  The Roc was able to see exactly where the van would drop him off and where he was supposed to go from there.  The teacher also printed out a sheet with all of his teachers and therapists pictures and names on it and we went over that in the days leading up to the first day.

When the big day finally arrived the Roc was excited, and he got out of bed willingly to get ready.  He was bathed and fed with time to spare and so we waited by the front door with the sheet of teacher photographs right beside him.

After he had been waiting for a little while, his anxiety got the best of him and he got really silly on the front stoop, jumping, waving his arms around, and letting out some repetitive yells.

He did pose for one more photo before the van came.

And when the van drove out of sight I exhaled into our foyer and grabbed the leash, ready to take the dog for a nice long walk, alone.

About and hour later I got an email from the special ed teacher, complete with a couple photographs of the Roc in school.  He was doing fine, following directions, still smiling.

I relaxed.