When we send our regular children out into the world, it requires a certain amount of trust on our part. We are trusting their educators to teach them well, to teach them that they are valuable, to reinforce all that we have tried to teach them at home.
Parents who send their Autistic children to school, daycare, a babysitter, or even to a relative’s home, experience those feelings more intensely. Many times, our children cannot speak up for themselves. They cannot express that something terrible has happened to them that day.
Some of these children are nonverbal. The ones who can speak often have communication problems. Because of this, they are easy targets for those who would harm them, whether it be physically, mentally, or emotionally.
Change is difficult for these children. It is almost as difficult for the parents. It takes time to develop a level of trust with those to whom we entrust our greatest treasures.
We hear horror stories of Special Education teachers taunting and mistreating the innocent children in their care. These stories make us angry; they also make us afraid.
Even when we have built a level of trust with our children’s caregivers and teachers, we always watch for any sign that all is not as it appears. Is our child pacing more today than he/she usually does? Does he/she seem more aggressive or withdrawn? Is the child crying more than usual at the thought of going to school? Is the teacher reporting behaviors that are outside of the norm for our child?
Cameron will enter Second Grade this year. He will be in the same class, with the same aids. He will simply have graduated to the next grade. This is his last year with this particular teacher.
We have grown attached to this teacher. She has gone above and beyond what most teachers do. She has earned our trust in a thousand different ways. We know that our child is safe with her, that his sense of self-value is being encouraged. When this coming school year ends, we will be quite sad. I know that both she and I will be crying. I dread that day, because not only will we lose her, but we will be moving into the unknown once again.
If we decide to keep Cameron in the Autism program, he will go over to the next building, where he will enter an Autism program that is designed for children grades three through six. He will have a different teacher and different aids. We will have to build trust with her; he will have to adjust to the changes in his routine and to all of the new faces around him.
I will have a new set of worries. Since he will be in a building with older children, who are both Special Needs and Neurotypical, will his chances of being bullied be increased? Will his teachers watch carefully and defend their special students? Will Cameron be able to tell me if something bad has happened at school? Will I be able to differentiate his expression of hurt and fear from the fictional stories he repeats from television?
As the parent of an Autistic child, worry seems to come with the territory. I worry more for him than I did when each of my other children went to school.
When each of my other children entered school, I worried for the first week or so whether they would get on the right bus. Would they make it home okay? Would they make friends? Would their teacher be nice to them?
When they arrived home safely, I breathed a sigh of relief. When they said that someone had been mean to them or that they didn’t like their teacher, my heart broke as I listened to them. I have gone to bat for them when necessary. I have offered advice on how to handle things themselves when it was appropriate.
With Cameron, it is a whole new ball game, one for which we learn the rules as we go along. I know that I will fiercely defend him, that I will be his voice when he cannot speak for himself. I know that if anyone hurts him, the first thing I will do is to sit down and cry my heart out. That is my first response to things like that. But the second thing I will do is prepare for battle, bringing the mama tiger to the surface if it comes down to it.
When Cameron switches classes next year, I will have my guard up. It may be a while before it comes down, and it may never come down completely.
I watch over him as completely as I can, while still allowing him to grow. Both of us must go outside of our comfort zone, to ensure that he will be able to function normally in a world that is often cruel, and deceptive.