On a warm June day three years ago, our little Richie was born. It was a day full of smiles and laughter (not just due to the morphine pump) and joy! Richie was the best little guy. And Ryan was staying with Eric's parents, who were keeping Ryan at Eric's sweet aunt and uncle's house (and they did that again when Mae was born... love this family). We were just getting used to the idea that it might be autism. But even in that glorious day of the birth of our Richie, there was reality.
Eric's phone rang, piercing the innocence of the day. He said a few things like "well, she just got through having the baby, I'll talk to her" and "I'm sure we'll participate." That was our diagnostician, and it was Ryan's first invitation to ESY (extended school year). Could he start Monday? It's just a half day, but he could use the speech. And the socialization.
So just a few short days from having our Richie, Eric and I dropped our precious three year old Ryan off at school for the first time. Having just had surgery I wasn't just real nimble, but made it to help. That day, when Ryan and Eric got home, the most amazing thing happened.
He tried! After being all but preverbal, Ryan tried to tell us something at lunch. The first day of school EVER! We were elated. And we knew right then that we'd done the right thing.
Fast forward to late August the same year, and we were getting ready to send Ryan to full-day PPCD (preschool program for children with disabilities). I was beside myself at best. I felt like I was abandoning him. I felt like an absolute failure. Here I was, having given up my career that I'd worked so hard for, dropping off my boy at school, just a couple months after turning three. I used to say things like "well, there's something wrong, and I'm the one he's been around every day for three years... you do the math." My sad, desperate attempt to juxtapose heart-wrenching failure and jocularity. And I really believed that I'd done something wrong. "If you'd stop catering to him" and "just make him talk" and "you've just spoiled him" echoed in my ears... I'd heard them so many times.
The first day looming on the horizon, I did everything I could to make him feel safer. He had his supplies, and I even made him a pillow by hand, with his name embroidered by hand, our of fabric he picked out a year earlier. That green Veggietale fabric was the first thing he ever reached for in a store. He was nearly three. I was so excited that I bought three yards. Money was incredibly tight, but I didn't care. My boy actually communicated that he wanted that, and it was within my grasp. Then we went to "meet the teacher" and I saw that several kids had covers for the cold, plastic nap mats they had to have. So overnight, I cut, ironed, stitched, and faked it until Ryan had a nap mat cover that matched his pillow. Did he care that his nap mat wasn't covered? Not that I know of. But it made me feel better.
Now it's three years of PPCD and the same fabulous teacher later, and we're going to kindergarten in less than a week.
I want to toss the lunch monkey every time I think about it.
Ryan has progressed a ton since that first day of summer school ever. He's begun asking for things, can repeat just about every line from every movie he loves, and can read more than we know. He can identify all his letters, numbers, can count to 100, can identify all his shapes (even octagon, pentagon, hexagon since he was three), knows all his colors and then some, can name every Thomas train, and he's just amazing. But he doesn't tell you his name, who we are, where we live, or who his brother and sister are. Send him to the bathroom and he'll go potty, but he'll stand there and play with the faucet for an hour if you let him. And when things start to change, he has a tendancy to calm himself by... well... stimming on his bowels. I know it's gross. I wash his clothes. He has no fear of strangers, no sense of danger except candles. He'll scream and climb up the nearest adult. He can't stand unpredictable things. Flies freak him out. Butterflies and candles sound so peaceful... not for Ryan. Not sure which level of hell that'd be for him, but it wouldn't be pretty.
That first day of PPCD, I cried all the way home. And off and on the rest of the day. I cried as I left every day for at least the first sememster. The whole first semester was hard on all of us. His dear teacher was a first-year teacher, and he baptized that poor woman by fire. She turned out to be a great teacher, and wonderful for kids who need organization and routine (not "need"... all kids need that... but REQUIRE) and loves those kids like crazy. He made leaps and bounds in her classroom because she lovingly pushed him. She shared with me what I needed to know so that we kept school and home as consistent as possible.
So kindergarten is coming. I would be even more nervous, but his teacher-to-be, after listening to what autism is and what the kids need, rose to the challenge, asking to have a child like Ryan (or Ryan himself... I don't want to speak out of turn). We know she's a great teacher. We know everything we could know to make us feel better. I've been telling him all summer about her... and he even said her name for the first time Sunday! I was so happy. I think he said something about school and wanting her... we still can't understand everything he says, though we try.
Even with all these positive things, I look at my boy while he's screaming till a vein pops out on his neck, and my stomach churns. But he needs to try this. I know it, I feel it. He needs the chance. I'm ready to do whatever he needs to make this work. But I'm nervous. For so many reasons. This time the nap mat and the pillow will stay on the shelf. He's good at using picture schedules. He's been asking for school... ASKING to go to school, in his own Ryan way... so what in the world is my problem?
I'm his mother. He's my son. He's special, and not just because he has challenges. I want him to have a great time, to enjoy the days, to make friends and just be happy. So like all of us parents have had to do since day one, I have to keep letting go, and be ready to catch him if he falls.
But I think he's gonna fly.
Stay tuned for more about the first day... I'm sure I'm not through freaking out!