Today was the first day of school-before-school for Pkin. She is participating in a program called “Jump Start” where teachers review some ideas from last year and introduce some topics that will be tackled in this coming year so that students can get back into the flow of things…before they have to get back into the flow of things. We aren’t certain how Pkin was selected for this program (the invitation letter simply said she was invited), but we are guessing it might be some combination of teacher recommendations and standardized testing scores (we haven’t seen her scores on all of these, but we assume there were some issues — especially in math, which she calls her enemy).
As any parent of a child with autism can guess, getting Pkin ready to head to Jump Start was not an easy task. She is quite adept at using a calendar and so knows very well when the “real” first day of school is. She has even been lamenting how quickly her summer is going since almost when it started (often with many tears and extreme regret that she is “growing up too fast.” We haven’t been permitted to call her a big kid ever and comments about getting bigger are greeted with quite a nasty look.)
She has also recently started talking a lot more about being different from other kids. Though we’ve never hidden her autism diagnosis from her, it only recently had meaning to her. As I started substituting for special ed classrooms, she started asking more about who goes to special ed. And she asked if she is a “special ed kid.” We answered that question as we answer pretty much all of her questions — as honestly and openly as we can. She seemed to get it, though she doesn’t get why everyone else doesn’t get her (we’re still working on the theory of the mind with her. And we’ll likely be working on that for years to come).
She also seems to get that she just needs a bit of extra help in some areas, like a lot of us do. She doesn’t mind the help, but she doesn’t like the idea that that means she sometimes has to do things other people don’t. Like starting part-day school two weeks early…
Though we knew about Jump Start for the last 6 weeks or so, and were telling her about it from the beginning as we know she needs a long lead time for any changes in her plan or routine, it still seems to have come upon her suddenly and by surprise. As we prepared her backpack last night, there were at least three bouts of temper tantrums and/or sobbing most of which focused on how unfair it is that summers are so short and school years are so long. She blames the government. She wonders if they know how terrible it is for her. And she wants to run the government so she can change that. She wants to run the government so she can change a lot of things. She also sometimes says she wants her own universe so she can run it her way. Since DH once had business cards proclaiming himself “Emperor of the Universe,” this is not an unusual concept in our house.
Getting Pkin up, dressed, and out the door to meet her school bus this morning was a lot like I imagine it will be getting her up, dressed, and out the door when she’s a teenager. She mastered the stereotypical teenage attitude long ago (she’s had the teenage girl glare down since she was 4). She was cranky, whiny, snippy, and demanding. She was a handful. And we did our very best to just hug that little handful as much as she would allow.
As Pkin, DH, and I all headed off to the bus stop, she insisted on walking a few steps ahead of us and not saying a word. Once we cleared the crest of the hill on our street, we could see the bus stop…where one of Pkin’s best friends (one of her only friends) was standing waiting for the bus to Jump Start. Her pace quickened and there was just the tiniest bit of a smile on her face — for a second. Then we got to the bus stop where DH and I said hello to her friend. Pkin turned her back, without a word, and stood waiting for the bus.
When Pkin arrived home from Jump Start this afternoon, I asked some of my usual after school questions (honed, over the years, to be very specific and not open ended). And I actually got a few answers. I don’t know who her teachers are. I don’t know who else she knows there besides her friend. I don’t know what sorts of activities they did. But I do know that it was “OK.” I know they had a recess outside where she ate some of her snack and played on an uncomfortable swing. I know that they learned about facts versus opinions and “some math.” I know that she isn’t looking forward to going again tomorrow, but she also isn’t upset about it. And that is, after all, OK.