Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Aaron's new school

Why do I forget?

My strong boy.
My brave boy.
My amazing son.

Aaron has been in grade one for two whole months.

The day before school started I was beyond anxious. 
As I laid out school outfits, sure that just the right ensemble would make all the difference, Aaron's teacher called me up and said, "Why don’t you and Aaron come down to the classroom today for a bit before all the hoolpla ."(pretty sure she didn’t use the word hoopla but that what my memory translated I into)

I watched as Aaron strolled into his classroom, like he’d been going there for years. Watched as he cased out the room, scanning so methodically looking for this year's obsessions. He picked the Guess who box--not the game, just the box.

I watched as this wonderful new teacher sat close to him and  gave him the little rubs and squeezes she’d seen me give him. As we chatted casually about our summers.
And I loved her for it.

The twinkle in her kind eyes made me feel like one of the Banks kids being granted my swish list for teachers and if you know how much I love Mary Poppins, that;s about the highest compliment I could give an educator. 

Why do I forget how great people are?

Why do I forget that Aaron’s greatest strength is not spatial reasoning or knowing his letters--
 it’s making people love him.
Not by being the first to raise his hand or drawing lovely pictures, but by just being him.

I’ll always be grateful that Aaron lets people touch him .
I laugh as I type this, because those of you who know Aaron know that is a gross understatement.
He could make the cuddliest and snuggliest person in the world feel claustrophobic.
I always feel so sad when I read about kids on the spectrum that can’t tolerate touch. Because even though Aaron is some ways is simply stimming off the texture of my hair, or smelling  people , or “giving hugs" to get the pressure his little sensory seeking body is craving, we neurotypical social beings can interpret that as affection. And it works. 
And oh how special you feel when Aaron picks you to love.

Those first few weeks of school were full. Full of setting up visual schedules, and programming his iPad, making token boards, setting up learning teams and preparing for IPPS.

McKye started Preschool.

I will forever be grateful that Aaron is our first child. Along with everything else he teaches us, he also ensures that we never take  normalcy for granted…he makes the typical seem so special. 
It is one of his many gifts to us.

McKye first day, he could hardly contain his delight as he strode with his hand me down converse shoes and his backpack. He had been begging to go back to his preschool room every since we’d gone for the orientation, when he fell in love with the grocery store play house.

"1-2-3-4 a kiss at the door"
and he was off.

I walked home holding Levi’s chubby little hand, happy to realize that even poor neglected third children get their turn—eventually—and I was genuinely excited to spend some one on one time with my little blonde boy.

I straightened the house and tried not to look at the clock too often. Played with Levi, until in a few hours it was time to walk back.
And there he was, his grin, unbelievable, bigger than when I dropped him off, his eyes bright with new learning and experience as his world expanded all before he’d even had lunch.

And all I could think was. Wow. So that’s what sending a kid to school is like? There was no meetings, no long assessments to ensure funding, no speech pathologists to consults or endless paperwork and even more endless meetings to assess and reassess, to make goals and change goals and follow up on goals. 

He just goes to school. 
And then he comes home. 

There are things that are “easier” about Aaron, but school is not one of them. And I was so overwhelmed and grateful for the ease of sending my McKye to school. I know this may not always be the case But that autumn morning I was grateful for easy. I was ready for something to be easy.

As we walked home, I asked, at first without even thinking, just caught up in my mother greeting her preschooler role “How was school?”

And he told me.
And I cried.

Because, I realized,  for three years I’ve “asked” Aaron, "How was your day?" almost as a little ironic joke,  as I pull out his communication book  to see what his aids could tell me about his day. But I knew it wasn’t what Aaron would tell me.  And so I was cut off from knowing anything beyond what I was physically present to observe …which made school hard.

And now her was my McKye, happily chatting about playing hockey in the gym and telling me about Teacher Shannon and the grocery store,  and I soaked it in like a desert being doused. I gave him happy little responses, while tears rolled down my face so grateful for this simple access, so overcome by the profound gift conversation with my 3 year old was.  And I silently thanked Aaron for making me see it, not letting me miss what a privilege it was to witness a child take in the world one little piece at a time, like rocks tucked away into squishy jean pockets.

It was a good day.

But some of the best days, come at a price. They cost? bad days that give you the contrast necessary to truly appreciate the great days.

The first school assembly, was one of those days I paid. 
I’d sat through the assembly with him, in awe--how on earth did they get that many kids to be that quiet!?!? I prefer loud rambunctious playgrounds where Aaron's squeals blend right in. Aaron had had a bit of a giggling fit at the conclusion of the school song that turned more that a few heads, but I was just so proud of him for sitting through the whole thing that I was in a good mind frame and optimistically thought "by the end of the year, the whole school will recognize Aaron’s giggles”

As we walked out of the assembly I was feeling good, I’d asked one of Aaron’s classmates to cary his fidget basket with him, and I had just caught the principles eye and was about to say something clever about Aaron sure liking the school song, when Aaron apparently reached his limit and full on smacked the kid in front of. Hard.

In front of the principle! The little elementary girl inside of me gasped.

He quickly comforted the crying boy, and then turned to me the parent trying not to cry. He said lots of good “principally” things to reassure me, but still I went home imagining kids gogin home with strange tales of the new boy who’s awful mean and hit for no reason.

By 4 am the next morning , I couldn't take it and I sat down at the computer to write out a letter “from Aaron”

We ended up not giving it out until later when I came in to do a presentation for Aaron’s class.
I’d done presentations about Autism for kids before, some that had go better than others and I needed this one to be good.
Which of course meant killer visuals and yummy treats!

We started with Mrs Wilkinsin reading the book “Ian’s walk” and assign the kids if they thought the boy in the story reminded them of anyone.

When they all knowingly said, “Aaron!” with that implied “of course” only kids can muster, I knew we’d waited just long enough.

My instinct was to go in the first week, guns blazing…but the reality was the kids had no context yet, to put any “autism” knowledge into.

They needed those first few weeks to just observe. To get settled themselves. 
To notice Aaron on their own accord.

Now they were ready, to have some answers. Cuz a lot of answers they’d already figured out. Smart kids.

Aaron’s friend from church Malachi, who is probably one of thee smartest kids I’ve ever met, prepared a little speech about being friends with Aaron.  It was, in true Malachi fashion--perfect.

But my favourite part was when I wanted to tell them about how Aaron says I love you to me. He’d been in the back playing with fidgets and examining his Guess Who box some more while I gave the presentation  but at that part he walked right up to me as if I’d given him his cue.

I said I love you and he, as always gave me a kiss. He does every time! I joked with the kids and said it again, with Aaron kissing me

I said something about how, “Hmmm, maybe kisses isn’t the best way to show our grade one friends we like them…what else could we do?”

And then told the kids how much Aaron likes giving high fives.
The kids all eagerly put up their hands .
And Aaron was the rock star.
In his awesome nonchalant way he “granted” a few of his adoring fans high fives as he made his way through the crowd back to his carpet and his Guess Who box.

Such a rock star.

 It went well and I went home feeling like for the most part we’d managed to get him settled into his new school quite well.  And for the first time in a while, I kinda let myself relax and forget.

Then the next morning I found this email in my in box.
Hello Chelsea,

My son,---, is in Aaron's grade 1 class. --- was telling me all about Aaron this evening when I got home from work and he is so excited to learn hand signals to communicate with him. I have just finished reading your letter and I just couldn't help myself from emailing you. I think this is such a wonderfully proactive way to introduce Aaron to the kids and their families, and I really admire your approach. I fully expect this will set a great tone for Aaron's transition to Probe. 

All the best for a great school year!
And then this picture came home with Aaron.

And again I thought.  Why do I forget how awesome people an be?

Why do I fear and fret? When in the end ther’s so much goodness to be found, So much kindness, and compassion.

Aaron’s old school as great as it was, didn’t not have a cart balcnche on love.

When I’m tempted to think of all the mean and horrible things that could happen to my precious peculiar boy,
I need to stop and remember..
There is  so much love out there to find.  So much.
And Aaron is so good and getting it out of people.

His talent. His purpose. His gift.

I feel lucky that things have worked out so well at the school, but then they’re a lucky school.
They get to have Aaron.


Update: By April, we did a whole Autism Awareness assembly, and the support was overwhelming. Kids form all the different grades know Aaron and make and effort to say "Hi" to him.
Thinking back to that first assembly, I thought, wow, we came a long was in one short year.

Aaron has coem a long way.

My strong boy.
My brave boy.
My amazing son.


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