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The First Day

  • Posted on September 3, 2014 at 10:00 AM

The boys are at school for their first full day of school today. This is the first full day of the new school year. It’s the start of new things:

  • Learning new things in new classes,
  • Attending class with new students and (for Willy, at least) new teachers,
  • Meeting (or not) new expectations, and
  • Aligning to new routines and new patterns.

Even though some of all this newness is actually the same as last year, it’s still new because there has been such a significant break between the end of last year and the beginning of this year. Furthermore, all three boys have made substantial growth in non-academic areas over the course of the summer, so they’re like new people heading into what may be an old environment.

After the rush of activity to buy new materials, new shoes, and new clothes for the start of this school year, I’m ready for the boys to go to school. I’m ready for the quiet and the relative inactivity. I’m ready to get back to my studies and get back to work. I’m ready to adjust that I may get back into the “normal” pattern of things. Whether it’s normal to human nature or not, the school year makes up the bulk of our yearly time, so it’s the “normal” we experience the most.

As ready as I am for the boys to be back in school, I still feel the loss of the moment and I still feel an overwhelming wave of anxiety for my children. I close my eyes and bring up all the words I have about all my children and fill the darkness of my pictureless minds with all their wonderful attributes. I silently pray, “Let this be a good day. Let the people of their new world see them for the wonderful people they are and appreciate them for all of who they are.” I hold each child in my mind for a moment. Then, I get back to work. I have a full day of work and studying to fit into this brief period away from my children. I have adjustments of my own to make to this new pattern of things. It’s a “first day” for me and for Mark, too.

School-Year Anxiety

  • Posted on August 8, 2014 at 10:00 AM

After the muddled end of my last school year, I admit I’m anxious about starting up school again. I still haven’t quite gotten a handle on my fibromyalgia. My business is growing, but it’s growing primarily in a way that involves me doing more work to make it grow, as well as the work I need to do to provide for my family. I’m not up to a full day’s worth of work, quantity wise, even though it takes me a full day (or longer) to do it. I’m not sure how I’ll strike a balance between work and school once it starts, since both are priorities. There is so much that is unknown and I feel so unprepared, that there’s definitely an anxiety factor involved.

Willy, on the other hand, seems willfully unaware that school will start in less than a month. He will acknowledge it if I bring the issue up directly. He’ll discuss what concessions he’s willing to make with regards to new clothes, new school supplies, new shoes, and a new backpack. He’s willing to talk, briefly, about how he felt last year went. He won’t talk directly about his hopes and fears about the coming year. It’s difficult to weigh his anxiety levels, because he asserts a blasé attitude that seemingly belies his willfulness on the matter.

Alex, of course, is impossible to gauge. Honestly, I think getting back to the routine of school will be good for him. We have had something of a routine this summer, which has helped; but it’s a routine that spreads across the week, not over a single day, and it’s subject to far more change than the routines of school. This is not to say that he isn’t experiencing anxiety over the start of school. It’s more to say that it’s difficult to judge that anxiety relative to the buzz of anxiety he seems to feel most of the time. There are times when he’s completely free and, by noting those times and repeating the surrounding circumstances, we’ve even been able to increase them. However, the onset of anxiety is never so easily pinned to one cause or another, because he can experience both instantaneous and delayed reactions, depending on his processing during the moment. He seems to be handling the idea of returning to school well, but it’s hard to tell.

Ben is another matter. He seems genuinely unaware of the imminence of school. If I bring it up, his behavior reflects a belief that what I’m saying is not interesting, and therefore not worth attending to. This doesn’t necessarily suggest a blasé attitude similar to Will’s, because Ben’s hyper-focus can be very difficult to break through, even if you attempt to do so with something immediate, tangible, and desired. Ben has very much been “in his own world” this summer. He’ll zone into something desired and prolong it as long as possible. The easiest way to break him out of it (not that we do this on purpose or anything) is to give Alex the opportunity to do something he likes to do that annoys Ben. Ben will stop whatever he’s doing, wherever he’s doing it (as long as they’re both in the same house) and try to make Alex stop. If Ben cares one way or the other about the start of school, then he’s not saying so. I suspect he’ll care once he has to go back to focusing on tasks and timetables that other people set for him.

Of course, Mark is the stay-at-home parent who is not going to school, so the start of school means something different to him. I remember what that was like and, if he’s anything like me, he’s looking forward to the relief. After all, he’s borne the brunt of a difficult summer. He’s definitely ready for a break! And he definitely deserves it!

Time to Shop

  • Posted on August 6, 2014 at 10:00 AM

As those of you with school-age children will know, it’s time to do the before-school shopping, where you get all the school supplies the school says your child will need for the year, as well as a closet-full of new school clothes (if you can afford that sort of thing). In a household with children with autism, this ritual is modified. While the modifications depend entirely on the child, here are a few things that might occur:

  • Your child does NOT want new clothes—no matter how cool they happen to be. Even new socks and/or underwear can ramp up the before-school anxiety.
  • Your child does NOT want a new backpack—even if the old one is falling apart and held together with duct tape.
  • If your child MUST have a new backpack, then it MUST be the same style, size, and color as the backpack that is being replaced.
  • If your child MUST have new clothes, then the outfits should emphasize comfort and should not be stress-inducing or exciting; whether the clothes are “cool” or not may not matter to your child.
  • Your child may require a set of “school” supplies for home, as well as for school, because paper, pens, pencils and crayons are always welcome. Your child might “break into” his or her school supplies if a set of the most desirable items is not purchase for immediate, at-home use. This can also reduce anxiety about going back to school.
  • Your child does NOT want a new pair of shoes—even if his or her shoes are too small or have holes in the toes and in the soles.
  • If your child MUST have new clothes/shoes, then they should be as adaptable as possible, meaning that it is ill advised to get a new summer set and then, later, a new fall set. If possible, get a new set that will be adaptable until the next growth spurt, adding new items as the seasons change.
  • Your child may have absolutely no interest in going shopping with you; the added stress of shopping on top of the near-constant back-to-school stress may be too much for your child to bear. If your child says, “No” in any way, shape or form, honor that choice if at all possible.
  • If your child MUST go shopping with you, please respect your child enough not to drag him or her to multiple stores in pursuit of the best deals—the cost savings is not worth the stress this will cause your child. If possible, avoid peak shopping times.

For many children with autism, going back to school is stressful enough. For many children with autism, going shopping is stressful enough. Combining the two is a disaster waiting to happen. Please honor and respect your child’s needs during this stressful, anxiety-ridden time.