I didn’t cry when my boys started kindergarten. Not when Gabe did, not when Nick did, and even last week when I dropped Matthew off for his first day – with the knowledge that it was going to be a struggle – no tears.
But when I put Gabe on the short bus this morning, I couldn’t help it. Tears just started pouring down my face as they pulled away with my 4th grader.
Today I cried with the acceptance that my son is not only different and has special needs, but he always will. Another part of the grieving process, I suppose, as each time I accept something else, another something seems to be lost.
It might sound confusing, right? That I haven't accepted that Gabe would always have special needs, but the reality is that we all start off with the idea that we are going to 'therapy' our kids to the point of mainstreaming. Or at least I did...but each year I get closer to the realization it isn't going to happen. Today, I actually got it.
Gabe has been 'mainstreamed' his whole academic career. So far. Kindergarten was a struggle – with ‘only’ a SPD diagnosis, we had no IEP, and no 504 in place, but his teacher was great and I truly believed things would turn around as he got older. Then first grade came with a 504 full of sensory accommodations, and a teacher that was the wrong fit, and I pulled him to homeschool for the end of the year. I was still thinking (hoping) he would 'get better' or 'grow out' of some of his issues, but he began struggling academically and socially. We decided to have him repeat first grade. His second time in first grade was good, with a great fit teacher, and a spring diagnosis of Autism and Bipolar Disorder that allowed for an IEP. My theory that things would get better seemed to be fading... Second grade came, and a new IEP that included learning support in addition to services, via pull out in the resource room, yet still he struggled. I was feeling less optimistic. By spring, we pulled him out in favor of a private school (after an inpatient psychiatric hospital stay) that would be less stressful, less kids, more learning support, and good for his self esteem. Third grade continued at the private school, where *every* kid there has something going on, and Gabe fit right in. But I was increasingly less optimistic about his future prognosis, as learning had become so laborious for him, and socially and emotionally he seemed to be regressing, or at least not progressing.
That brings us to now.
I wrote about how the evaluation process and placement process went this summer, and I am convinced we have chosen the best option. Truly. But that placement is, for the first time, truly a 'special needs' program all day in a public school. I have public school scars and so does Gabe.
Friday we toured the school, just Gabe and I, went through the classroom, met other kids, went through the routine, lunch, cafeteria and recess….and I felt a tinge of panic brewing.
Brewing about the reality that my son was going to be in an enclosed learning environment, worried about how he would react, and especially how other kids would treat him….
And he was worried too. Worried that he would be teased on the bus again. Worried about lunch and who he would sit with. Worried about how loud the cafeteria would be, or how busy the playground would be. Everyone there reassured him – the teachers, the aids, the therapists, and of course, me. But, we all know that kids can be cruel (we also know there are angels among them), so it is hard to be 100% about how he will be treated. And we all know that a child’s self esteem is paramount.
So today, when he got on the short bus, for the first time in his life, I watched him pull away, exuberantly waving to me, clutching his Pokémon backpack which held his beloved stuffed squirrel, Chucknut, and driving off into the unknown…and...
… the tears just fell …