Oftentimes, I’ve heard the interesting comment made to me that my son “doesn’t seem like he has Autism” or the endlessly amusing “but he doesn’t LOOK Autistic”. Now that I have a daughter heading into middle school who has a mild form of Autism, I’m really trying not to have a “Here we go again!” kind of apprehension that although would be appropriate, I truly want to be hopeful for the new school year. The last school year was like the IEP version of Lord of the Flies, so I’m looking forward to pleasant interactions. What a lot of people, including well educated teachers don’t understand, is that every single child presents differently while on the spectrum. Some children may appear to be quite typical on a daily basis, but it’s the social difficulties, delays in development or learning abilities and hyper-focusing on issues that can severely interfere with learning. Well meaning teachers over the past few years worked tirelessly to deny the existence of her Autism. Now I of course stood my ground and got an independent evaluation and finally got it all straightened out, but there was a lot of damage done. She spent two years with failing grades and was socially promoted, leaving her woefully unprepared for entering middle school. I have my work cut out for me.
It was only through having a well-trained expert in Neuropsychology explain how Autism presents in many different ways and differently based on the setting that finally helped the school team understand that while a child can have ADHD, an Anxiety disorder and depression along with Autism that the child works very hard in school and social settings to hide things that make them stand out. So, people at home including caregivers, parents and siblings often deal with the full manifestation of Autism that often re-emerges after school and other public settings. It’s important to stand your ground with school officials and not let this lack of understanding prevent your child from succeeding. While we lost two very valuable and formative years and I had to put my foot down and demand what she deserved, we are on a better path now. You understand your child best and you need to draw from that knowledge to do what you can to help you deal with your child in the school system. I don’t mean to make it sound like the school doesn’t want to help your child or place them in an educational setting where they won’t succeed, but in my case, I had an IEP chair hell bent and determined to not back down, so I had to act like the first contestant on “IEP Wars” (I think that could fly as a reality show) and not get kicked off the island.
My new sixth grader is feeling nervous and intimidated about sixth grade (who didn’t or doesn’t right?) but I’m doing everything I can to help ease her into a positive place for this upcoming school year. So far, we’ve gone into the school and took a tour and met every teacher. It’s a big change from elementary school and new hallways, bigger lockers (they call it Locker City for crying out loud) and floors to climb several times a day. However, I feel that I’ve done everything I could to help her get ready and set her up for a successful year. So, to all those parents out there getting ready for the next round, don’t be afraid to jump in the ring when you hear the bell. You’ve got this.