New School Anxiety

This year the boy had to change schools. Not because we moved. Not because he is leaving elementary and going to middle school. No, it’s just the way the exceptional kids program works in our district.

Just in case you’re new to our blog, I’ll catch you up. We have two kids on the high functioning end of the autism spectrum. The girl is in high school and the boy is in elementary.

Thankfully, I don’t have to worry quite as much about the girl these days. During her earlier years we were in a different school system where one of their big focuses was to teach our daughter how to advocate for herself. Since we’ve moved and she started a new school this ability has been huge. We are still there to support her and help her make decisions. But at those times that we can’t be by her side we know she can speak up and tell teachers or fellow students what she needs. BIG win.

So back to what’s going on with the boy. We learned at the end of the last school year that his “home” school, the one closest to our house, would not be able to accommodate him after kindergarten. The system is set up to have small group exceptional kids pre-k and kindergarten at each school with the goal being to integrate these kids into the general education class by 1st grade. It’s a great goal but not one that every kid can accomplish. For those that have difficulty integrating, like ours did, the school system has set up specialty programs at various schools in each region.

None of this is bad. In fact, compared to other parts of the country, I know that we are blessed to be in a school system that has this much support. I am very thankful for that. I can’t imagine what parents go through when they have no support.

It was just a bit of a shock learning that he would have to change schools. We struggled with how and when to tell him. He left school last year talking excitedly about how he would get to be the breakfast helper in the mornings when school started again. He couldn’t wait to “drive” the trashcan and pretend it was a garbage truck. We couldn’t tell him then. It would crush him.

Driving back and forth to camp the first few weeks of summer we would pass his old school. He would talk about his friends and the cool job he was going to have in August. Still excited.

It wasn’t until halfway through the summer that I finally broached the topic. Explaining to him that he was going to a new school was hard. He was sad. He was scared. He was disappointed that he wouldn’t get to drive the trashcan.

What I couldn’t tell him was that I was scared too. We were comfortable at his old school. We knew the program and the teachers and the school. The new program would be different and, because it was summertime, there was no one I could call to discuss it with. What would the class be like? How many kids would be in the program? Was it more than one grade in a class? I needed answers and there were none.

So, I did one of the things that I’m really good at; I worried. In front of the boy I was happy and excited. But when it was quiet, I questioned everything and fretted about the start of the new school year.

Of course, it was all for naught. (Hee Hee! Sorry. Every time I use that word, I can hear Jethro Clampett trying to add in my head. Makes me giggle.)

We received an email a few weeks before school was to start announcing “Popsicles with the Principal.” Finally, we would get a chance to walk into the school building. It was on a busy Thursday evening and we almost didn’t go, but I’m so glad we did. I was able to meet a couple of teachers and talk to a parent of a child who would be in the boy’s class. I was finally able to ask some of my questions and get actual answers. We left that event feeling a lot calmer about the new year.

Today we went to sneak-a-peek where we were able to meet his teacher and see his classroom. He saw his desk and met a couple of other students. While we filled out paperwork, he colored. We saw our new friends from popsicle night. And we were able to meet the general ed teacher whose class he will join for science.

Now he’s excited for the first day at his new school. And I’m looking forward to his new adventure. We’ll miss his old school, but we already have plans to get together with his friends. Maybe we can invite some new friends too. We’ll see how that first day goes and then decide.


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