Martin started his new school today. His fellow students are very high-functioning. Three-quarters of them I would have assumed to be typically developing, had we met in any setting other than a special-education preschool.
Adrian, my mother, and I all delivered Martin to his teacher. Adrian snapped a dozen pictures. We left one at a time: my mother, then Adrian, and finally I. Martin protested mildly when I left, a few Mommy whimpers. I thought the parting went well.
He’s in a 12-student, one-teacher, two-assistant (“12-1-2”) classroom now, for five-and-a-half hours per day. That’s a big jump from his former school, where he participated in a seven-student, eight-teacher group two hours daily. His old school recommended an 8-1-3 class for this year, based on his difficulties with “attending” in a group setting; we reached to get him placed in the more advanced 12-1-2.
I returned to pick him up this afternoon and asked the teacher how Martin’s day had gone.
He did well, she responded, her tone even and unenthusiastic.
“I perceive some hesitation?” I inquired.
He had some trouble with transitions, she owned. She expects that to lessen as Martin learns his new routine. (Transitioning is moving from one activity to another. We’ve made progress in that area, but Martin still might tantrum when ending activities he enjoys, such as music.)
I decided to push. “How was his attending?”
He did need to be redirected throughout the day, the teacher said. Attending is a skill they will be working on all year long.
I walked away from the conversation disappointed. What I had fancifully longed to hear was an implication that Martin performed so well in the 12-1-2 classroom that he would probably soon be ready for a 15-1-2. What I had thought was realistically possible to hear was that Martin belongs in a 12-1-2 classroom and is up to snuff.
What I instead read into the teacher’s words was a suggestion that Martin may not yet be far enough along to keep up with the highest-functioning special education kids.
That was hard.
My rational side sees that it’s silly to think a first-day analysis can predict the year. My hopeful side believes that wherever Martin is now, he will continue to improve.
But my fragile side, the side that autism has left naked and raw, is wounded by the acknowledgment of Martin’s current shortcomings, even if I know them myself.
A few minutes after I spoke with Martin’s teacher, the school’s director of admissions, who was mingling with parents making first-day conversation, approached me and asked how I was feeling.
Martin had some trouble transitioning, I responded.
“Of course he did. They all do the first day,” she said.
And his attending still needs work, I said. At this point something in my manner must have signaled my frustration, because the director switched to a tone of voice both matter-of-fact and consoling.
“Oh, but you knew that,” she said. “You know his attending needs work.”
It’s true. I know. I know that we have far to go.