It’s looming. That time in every parent’s life when you have to let go of some control and turn your child over to the very competent teachers at your neighborhood’s elementary school. For the school in my neighborhood I am about to add a dash of autism. Autism and kindergarten–certainly not a new concept but a scary one nonetheless. Kindergarten–who knew a word meant to induce images of children happily playing and learning with their peers before a kind and patient teacher could bring such fear to the parents of children with special needs.
For me, her name is Kate, and she is every bit as wonderful as you could imagine. She has autism and for every deficit that word conjures she makes up for in pure awesomeness. You’d agree with that evaluation immediately upon meeting this little spitfire. Everyone always does. So, why then, am I terrified to send this little lovable doll to Kindergarten? In short, because everything that makes her amazing is frowned upon within the confines of a classroom. I should know, I am a teacher too. We’ve come a long way, for certain, and with flexibility and differentiation in teaching, the Kates of the world have more support than ever, but we are still not nearly advanced enough to appreciate both the limitations and the advantages of the world of autism and other such communicative disorders.
Will they understand her difficulty with receptive language. She may nod and smile but she rarely truly comprehends what is being asked of her unless it has been practiced many times over. Will they think she is being flip when she doesn’t answer or worse answers something silly and unrelated to the question?
Will they ask her to remain still for minutes and hours when her little nervous system is forcing her to jump and spin and rise up on her toes for relief? Will they think she is hyper and defiant?
Will they ask her to write or to produce letters and sounds that still defy her though we’ve been working on them for years in therapy? Will they wonder if she’s ever held a pencil at home?
Will they expect her to attend to the reading of an entire book or worse a teacher lecture when her brain is ‘wiggling’ relentlessly because it wants her to tell you about the Ninja Turtles again and again?
Will they have patience and understanding for her even when they are tired and overworked due to difficult working conditions and overcrowded classrooms?
Will she be safe?
Will she make friends?
Will she be happy?
Will she come to believe she is bad in some way? This one, in particular, kills me. Right now, Kate believes she is a bad guy fighting ninja warrior with all the love and respect in the world. Will school change that for her? Will she learn that she is different or difficult?
Autism and kindergarten. It’s a reality so pervasive, few teachers would be unprepared but will they afford her what she truly needs. Can they?