Individuals with autism do not like change. It can take a lot of effort to make their way through our sensory-rich environment, without having to navigate change.
We use tools to help them, things like visual timers, visual schedules, social stories, and chaining.
Last Friday, Brian graduated from the fourth grade. Next year, he’ll be heading off to the middle school to be a fifth grader. We are leaving our safe place, our second home for the past six years.
Right now he’s in a school where he knows every corner. He knows every teacher and they all know him. More than know him, they love him. Teachers, who haven’t even had Brian personally in their class as a student, keep certain animal toys in their classrooms just hoping Brian will come in to visit when he gets to take a break. The Physical Education teacher gives him and his autism peers free reign of his gym when he isn’t teaching a class. He is included in every aspect of his school.
Next year, he’s heading off to a brand new program. A program we’re very hopeful and excited about. The New England Center for Children is partnering with our district to make the first middle school autism program. In fact, it’s the first program of it’s sort in Maine. It’s promising us a lot and I’m sure it will be a great fit for Brian, but I’m also sure there will be bumps along the way.
So, I’m thankful we have ESY (Extended School Year) to ease me. Oh, did I say me? Yes, the truth of the matter is that I’m worried the change is going to be harder on me than him.
I’ve been a parent of this elementary school for years and years. I know everyone by name. I can come and go as I please and they don’t even ask me to sign in anymore (shhhh, I’m probably not supposed to admit that out loud). I use the staff bathrooms on a regular. I helped develop the elementary autism program. I taught their students about autism. Kids and teachers stop me in the hall to tell me the latest Brian story. Kids hold the door open for Brian every morning and say hi and wait for him to reply. Last week I had a boy, I didn’t even recognize, stop me in the hall to ask me about Brian’s allergies so he could make him cookies for the last day of school.
And then there are the amazing people that work directly with Brian. His 1:1s and I regularly communicate via text messaging- whether it’s me reminding them that someone different is picking Brian up from school or it’s them sending me pictures of Brian playing with a peer. They don’t just teach him, they love him. They worry about him and pick up on little things like lethargy or stomach issues or slight behaviors that someone who doesn’t care wouldn’t pick up on. They are always able to see him through his behaviors and no matter how hard of a day he is having, they are most concerned about him- not how tired they are after having to be on their toes all day. They believe in him and don’t ever put boundaries on him. They are the piece that I truly am going to have the hardest time leaving.
We’re heading into the unknown.
So, I’m going to take some of the tools I would use for Brian to ease transition and use them on myself. I have six weeks of ESY to get used to this idea that he’ll be in a new school with new staff. I can do this.
I’m going to backward chain myself. Starting the first week of ESY, messaging his teachers on the daily like always. But by the last week, I’m determined to only have one text a day.
I’m going to make myself a social story about the first day of middle school. Complete with pictures of me letting go of Brian’s hand in his new school lobby, saying goodbye without crying, and *not* checking my phone for updates of his day every five minutes.
I’ll set myself a visual timer so I will know exactly how long it will be until I get to pick him up and see how his first day went.
And it will all work out….
Who am I kidding? I’ll text his teachers all summer long, I’ll cry on the first day, I’ll take the first day of school off so I can linger as long as I want, I’ll forge relationships with his new 1:1s until they like me like a bestie. And it’ll be fine.
Change is not my friend.