Surely you remember the panic around back-to-school time. Maybe it didn’t kick in until you were in middle school, but think back to the swirling emotions of going back and facing school again. Would I get the mean teacher? Would that one mean kid be in my class? Is this teacher going to give us assigned seats, or are we going to get to sit by our friends? What if I have a top locker and can’t reach my combination? What if I have a bottom locker and all the cool kids have top lockers???
All of those same fears, plus a few dozen irrational ones, are just as true for students with autism.
This year, Carrie is in fourth grade. We have a few perks in this school that I admit not every parent has. We get to help pick her teacher, for example. The school keeps a core group of classmates who worked well with her and were supportive in her class for the next school year. We’ve had meetings and phone calls all summer. We’re ready, but Carrie and I are both still terrified.
It’s a whole new year and I can’t help but ask myself, “Is THIS the year she’s going to have a bad year?” I don’t really have anything to base that fear on other than weird-Mommy syndrome, but it’s always in the back of my mind.
As with ANYTHING related to autism, the best defense is a GOOD offense. I didn’t say tough or demanding or barbaric, I said GOOD. Prepare the school and the new teacher with anything you can think of that might help. Be supportive and offer your time, your talent, or your financial gifts, if you can. One thing I do for every teacher we’ve had is take all of her workbooks home and store them in my office on a bookshelf. As she needs pages from the books, I tear them out of every book and make nice neat stacks, so that she ends up with paperclipped worksheets instead of trying to help twenty-five 2nd graders find the right page in their books; I also have them send home the thick packet of Scholastic book order sheets once a month, which I also separate and staple with a reminder note of the date they are due. It’s these little things that I can do at home in the evening that will take some of the work load off of an already terribly busy and under-appreciated educator. It didn’t cost me anything except a little bit of time, and it builds a good relationship with the teacher. Besides, if she ever messes with my kid, I hold her workbooks hostage! (kidding)
It’s perfectly normal to worry a little bit about the coming year, but one thing you cannot do is face it with resentment and irritation. No matter what kind of educational experience you’ve had with your school in the past concerning your autistic child, this is a brand-new year. Walk through those doors with your head up, your child’s hand in yours, and be prepared to support the people who, deep down, want the best for your child.