Autism, Motherhood

a year in review: 1st grade

As is my new yearly tradition, it’s time to reflect on Caleb’s 2nd year of school since Pre-K, which is also right around the 2nd anniversary of his autism diagnosis. Writing is a way of expressing myself, of reflecting and remembering and processing. Raising a child with autism is traumatic, folks. Almost every day is a battle of some sort. We are truly blessed to have wonderful, sweet moments, but there are daily struggles too. Some expected, some unforeseen. Pain is a great teacher, and I’m not going to waste ours by not being reflective.

Read about last year here.

It’s an hour round trip every morning to take him to school. I am a little more used to it, but I still loathe the drive with a fiery passion. I am straight up self-pitying about it sometimes. Then I get over myself. I fully understand there are worse things in life, but I still hate it. In the afternoons, we enlisted the Fulton County special ed transportation to drive him to the private school he was at since he was 1 year old so he could be with his friends and keep something familiar for after school care. The bus situation was a disaster. Daily the bus driver was lost, late, and the private school folks couldn’t wait outside for him. We are told it’s not going to work out for him to stay there. I panic and scramble; we look at another place for after school care and hate it. Plus, we can’t risk him being kicked out of here, too since I know in my heart he’ll continue to have behavior issues. It occurs to me how many times we’ve willed Caleb to be neurotypical. How many times we’ve unintentionally put the burden on him to just not be autistic. This one of those unfortunate times we begged him to just “act right”.

I made the difficult and painful decision to leave my job for the year. It was clear I needed to spend more time with Caleb. I have to give he and Mason all my emotional energy. He is needing help with his homework now, so it seems right to be the one giving it. However, it also clear to me that being a full-time mom is not my calling. I don’t enjoy cleaning the house, laundry, dishes, helping with homework, or grocery shopping any more than I did before, sadly. I am trying to make it fruitful and I love our closer relationship, the extra time to do home projects, and to read.  I have learned so much about myself, and I’m so humbled and grateful I did it. It was the right thing for this year, without a doubt. I go back to work in September, and I’m very excited! I’ll work half days, so I can still be home after school for the boys. I’m going to appreciate this summer with the kids, though!

The bus situation continued to be a nightmare all year. He spends an hour on the bus after school. There were days he was an hour later than usual and many days where the driver pulled over and refused to go any further. He was getting out of his seat, screaming, and intentionally upsetting other students on the bus.  Just stop screaming and getting out of your seat, for goodness sake! You’re going to make the bus driver so flustered she crashes the bus. It’s dangerous! I’m not sure what’s in his control and what’s not. One day, the driver asked if they were giving him his meds at the wrong time. There isn’t a medication for autism, you bitch. I was infuriated, but I also understood the stress of trying to drive with all that nonsense happening. I’m sure it was awful for her. I gave a lot of grace, but finally, I called her supervisor and got her removed from the route from Caleb’s school. I should’ve done it MUCH sooner. He still has issues with screaming and getting out of his seat, but it’s improved and at least the drivers bring him home now. I’m still learning how to advocate for Caleb appropriately. I’m still learning about my power in these situations.

With the exception of the location and the bus debacles, Birmingham Falls Elementary is great for Caleb.  He is in the K-2nd grade Autism class with his teacher, Ms. Hillman, who specialized in autism studies in college, and 2 wonderful paraprofessionals. There are 7 children in his class, so he gets lots of attention and opportunities to shine. His behavioral incidents have reduced consistently throughout the year at school and in public. I have had 2 positive, uplifting IEP meetings where all the teachers gush over all his wonderful qualities: he works hard, he is so smart, he is kind, sweet, and a good friend. They know him well and they love him. They want the best for him. He gets moved to 2nd grade advanced math. He is now almost entirely in gen ed classes (with support). He has his “home base” in the autism room with a teacher who understands him and what he needs. She offers him unconditional love, while also not giving into him.  She lovingly nudges him to challenge himself and grow. She’s a saint and I love her.

While the behavior incidents have lessened considerably at school, they’ve increased at home. He is triggered by the smallest of things and they are often unpredictable, like Mason coughing or singing. Once again, I can only assume he’s working so hard in public that he lets all the pent-up sensory overload, emotional upset, and exhaustion out at home. He seems more in control, but he won’t stop either. Attacking Mason, me, Josh, refusing to do his homework (I now remind him of his behavior sheet, but I refuse to get upset about it. If it’s not done, oh well), destroying the house, threatening, yelling abuse, screaming at the top of his lungs. I am heartbroken at how he often goes after Mason. It’s not fair to him how he gets the brunt of Caleb’s rage. When Caleb is calm, I point out the injustice of Caleb’s attacks. How Mason lets Caleb exist without punishment. Mason is very forgiving and worships his big brother. Sometimes he mimics Caleb’s behavior.

When I tell Ms. Hillman about what’s going on at home, she offers to meet with me. We create a behavior sheet like the one he has at school, for home. I feel I have someone on my team, we partner together for Caleb. I need other adults who can understand what we’re going through. The sheet has helped some, but consistency is key. I have to keep doing it even when it’s not working all the time. I’ve slacked off the past week because #endoftheyear. But I can’t slack for too long with Caleb.

Prevention is better than the trauma that comes from crisis management, I remind myself wearily. I must stay on track this summer, though we’ll loosen up a little. Less is expected of him, so summers tend to be a little easier. Next year, Caleb will be in a gen ed homeroom and classes, with support. He’ll be at Birmingham Falls again. We don’t want to lose the progress made this year and Ms. Hillman can be there as a safety net when she’s needed. I will gird up my loins for the commute and do what’s best for my kid. I think this is better in the long run to really be sure he’s ready to return to our home school.

Overall, much was gained this year. I have moments of despair, but they pass. I have moments of hope, but they pass. What never leaves me is that I know God is already and will continue to use this for good, if only I stay willing to trust in Him.

 

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