Letting your child go to school is difficult for any parent. There is something really hard about turning their care over to strangers, whether they be well-meaning teachers, or not. The fact is, they have been our baby for so long and letting them go to school is like affording them an independence that we feel they just aren’t ready for. Now, throw autism into the mix and imagine how difficult this transition can be. Well, it will be for me a least. Let me tell you a little about my little girl with autism. Her name is Kate and she is phenomenal. She even has an autism service dog that will attend school with her to keep her safe. His name is Oakley and he is pretty special, too.
Communication is Hard
Autism is a disorder based on three major areas of deficit. They are: communication, restricted and repetitive behaviors (stims, like hand-flapping or spinning) and social interaction. For Miss Kate, and many children on the spectrum, there is variable mix of all three that can make navigating the world very difficult. Kate is verbal, but her communication is very unreliable. We worry her teachers and her classmates will think she understands when she does not and we worry that her strange way of communication will isolate her when all she wants is to be right in the middle of it all.
Gender Biases are Confusing
As you can tell from her rock star haircut, Kate doesn’t feel the affects of silly gender stereotypes. She loves what she loves and she doesn’t need anyone’s approval. This is something we love about our little girl with autism but it is also something we feel other people might not understand. After all, we can’t all be as forward-thinking and carefree as Miss Kate. She loves ninja turtles and wrestlers and barbies and ponies, too. She is an equal opportunity lover of all things toy. As it should be.
Sitting Still is Painful
Her nervous system does not allow her to rest very often. This is the case with many children like Kate. She is more comfortable when she is moving. Today’s classrooms are getting a little better but they are no where close to where they need to be to allow for kids like Kate to move and learn. Thankfully, there are wiggle seats, and fidgets and even stationary bikes at her future school.
Playground Rules are Baffling
This is where the social interaction stuff can really get in the way. Kate doesn’t intuitively get some of the playground rules that other kids seem to understand. She is not great at sharing yet and she works hard not to come on too strong with the help of daily therapy, but we are fearful that children may be turned off by her odd behavior. Kids, these days, are pretty amazing and totally inclusive as a group, but there are some lines kids don’t expect you to cross, and our little ninja is likely to cross every one.
Sensory Overload is Common
Sounds, sights and smells can send Kate into a tailspin. She even eats a mostly beige diet because food can be a seriously overwhelming experience. How will she cope within a classroom? How will she manage being surround by things that can set her off? What will happen when she does have a meltdown? Is the staff trained to handle her outbursts? Will they hold her and hug her and tell her it’s going to be okay? Will they still love her?
The truth is, Kate is more than ready to attend school. She talks about it every single day. In the coming weeks we will worry, of course, but we must put our faith in the excellent school that is waiting with open arms for our little girl and her dog.