My son has started first grade. This is not the ideal first grade placement. He is coming from a school where there were 2 teachers for 12 students. He is entering a school where there is one teacher for 28 students. He is going from half days to full days. New kids, new teacher.
This is huge.
The photos I took and posted Wednesday, were of the drop off. He looked happy. Handsome and curious about his new surroundings. I was told he had a great first day. But let me let you in on a little secret. That phrase? “Great first day”? That means different things to different people. It is a superficial remark, said without much thought, a polite response that hides what is beneath the surface where most people don’t care to go. It’s akin to a response of “Fine.” to the question, “How are you?”
The tutors reported an awesome first day because they did not have to intervene for behaviors. He made it without sticking out, melting down, falling to pieces. The first grade teacher reported a great first day because he was “just like the other kids.” “He blended.” The Special Ed Director concluded my son had a “fantastic first day” based on his smile.
So, a smile, no outbursts, and blending makes for an awesome first day. Okay, I can think of a lot worse outcomes. But the hairs on the back of my neck are standing up when I hear too much praise for my son “blending”. I have to say that I find it a bit offensive that they are making so much of his ability to “chameleon-ize” his autism.
Honestly, I felt like the school personnel thought Toots was going to fit a stereotype that he doesn’t fit. They made way too much of his “blending” with neurotypicals. This is something that, at our location on the spectrum, I find a double-edged sword. My son is different by his delays in language, ability to communicate, respond, and socialize. He is often in his own world. Yet, there are so many cool, special, funny, awesome things about him that once you know him, you cannot resist the lure of his friendship: – to the girls he’s got the kevorka; for the guys, they get the mancrush. But when there is a focus on one part of him or another, the other gets lost and his identity with it.
And when he “chameleon-izes”, he suppresses things. Yesterday night, at home, he resurrected an old behavior – screaming, loudly and obnoxiously at video games on his iPad or Wii, no control – no stop button, earning a time out and lost electronics for the rest of the night. He was releasing all the pent up emotions of the day in his familiar, over-the-top where it’s safe, way.
These are the things the school didn’t see.
My son’s teacher has been teaching for 30 years. How do I know? Because she emphasized this to me on both days I met her. Perhaps, to assure me she knows what she is doing. Instead, I’m pondering whether she’s had enough, is waiting for the retirement figure to hit acceptable, is burnt out, or not going to be willing to stick her neck out for wrongs, when she so close to the exit door.
She’s been given a huge class. She’s sent work he’s done in class home, unmarked. There’s been no homework, a stark contrast to last year in kindergarten, where he had homework from his first day – always returned reviewed and graded.
The day before school started, Tootles and I met the teacher. I explained to her that, at times, my son might appear as though he is not listening. He will look off in another direction and mumble to himself, but I assured her, he will absorb everything that is said. She responded by saying she had a student like that last year, with no diagnosis. Perhaps, she felt she could say no more. Perhaps, there was a struggle to get a diagnosis or referral. Or perhaps the idea never crossed her mind. I don’t know. I then learned this teacher had no referral for special needs last year. Putting those two “facts” together left me unsettled.
I am trying so hard not to make judgments- yet. The teacher seems strong and my son needs that. But so far, the strength I see is more like crowd control than teacher. She’s definitely got a full load with 28 students.
How much individual attention will my son receive? The class will be broken up for PE, music, computer lab and library time. She will work with half the class while the others are out. Maybe that will help.
When I asked who would walk the six year olds to the other side of the campus to the gym, music room or computer lab, she said she would walk the whole class over and take half back for the first week. After that, they will be on their own.
This is a “semi” open campus. There is a fence but it does not fully enclose the buildings. Adjacent to the school is a beautiful park with a pond. My son is not a known wanderer but absent a one-on-one aide? He’d never make it. After school, the first day, I’m not comfortable but I rest in the knowledge that the ABA tutors are providing an independent check on my son’s education and safety. I think I’m “so lucky” that the district agreed to provide this service for my son in his IEP offer.
After school on the first day, I got a text message saying the school district wants to reneg on their offer of a full time non-contracted ABA aide and instead provide their own employee as my son’s afternoon aide, since he’s had such a good day. Yes, really. Based on his first day.
There’s the other edge to that sword, you see? The bad use of a “great first day.”
I thought we’d reached a detente. Apparently not. So on goes the battle armor. The thread of trust broken.
And here I thought I was going to hang up my briefcase and be an official SAHM… Ah well. Once a shark, always a shark. They just didn’t recognize me in my shades.
(To be continued)