Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Stepping Up. Melting Down.

I will never forget walking into the Harry H. Gordon (HHG) school for the first time - it was mid June, 2008.  I had no idea what to expect of a special needs program.  We had just received the diagnosis three weeks before touring HHG. 

The Boy on his first day of school

At the time we toured the school, The Boy had no language, he couldn't point a finger.  By that September he had 5: hi, bye, no, baby, go.  He could also say letter A - E.  And he could sign: give me, more, finish and play.  I remember putting him on the short yellow bus for the first time that September.  So scared.  So uncertain.  Still doubting the reality of the diagnosis.  I remember The Husband saying, "It's just to help him catch up.  He'll be in a regular school by kindergarten."     

It's three years later.  And now it's time for him to move on.  He has more than 5 words - hundreds, maybe thousands.  He knows all of his letters.  He doesn't need to sign anymore.  While his speech is not always spontaneous, he can get his needs met.  But he's still not ready for "regular" kindergarten.  It's okay, we've kind of let go of that.   

Last Friday was his "Stepping Up" Ceremony.  The program said the kids would sing two songs: Sesame Street's "Sing" and Laurie Berkner's "The Story of my Feelings."  Before leaving the house, I stuffed tissues in my bag, thinking I would cry. But there was no time for tears. I watched as The Boy refused to come into the auditorium and had to be coaxed in by his teacher.  As I walked back to my seat on the other side of the auditorium, I could hear him crying as his classmates sang.

After a good 5 minutes of listening to The Boy cry, I got up and walked around to where he was. He was sitting in his teacher's lap, fingers in each ear and tears streaming down his face. There are moments when it's very easy to forget about The Boy's diagnosis. This was not one of the moments.  In that moment, the diagnosis was painfully obvious. And instead of celebrating and enjoying the moment, all I wanted was to get the ceremony over with and get him out of there.

For the millionth time, I questioned my decision for September.  Could The Boy handle being in a typical school?  Even if it is a special class for kids on the spectrum?  If a Stepping Up ceremony could trigger a serious melt down - what will he be like during an assembly?  What will the first day of school be like?

I wore a pretty dress.  The Husband was dressed up.  So was The Boy.  My parents also attended.  I wanted to take a nice family picture.  But by the time the ceremony ended, I was mentally exhausted and my stomach in knots, thinking about September.  We rushed through a few pictures.  Because even though The Boy stopped crying, he was not in the best of moods.  And when he says "it's time to go," I know it's time to go.

We decided to go out for an early dinner and as soon as The Husband started driving, The Boy began to sing "The Story of my Feelings."  It's a good feeling, hearing your child sing.  It's something he's been doing a lot lately.  Singing to himself, hitting all the notes.  The ceremony wasn't what I had expected it to be, but in its own way, it ended exactly the way I wanted it to. 

The Boy's time at HHG isn't over just yet.  There's still the summer program.  Thank goodness. 




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AutismWonderland - written by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez - is a personal blog chronicling a NYC family's journey with autism, while also sharing local resources for children/families with special needs.