Week Three, First Bullying?

Week three of school. Martin and I were walking to the bus stop when he asked, “Why do some kids say, ‘You can’t sit here!’?”

“Do some kids say that to you?”

“Yes. Then the bus driver says, ‘You can sit in the first two seats’.”

“Which kids say that to you?”

“Big kids in the bus.”

“Does any of the kids from this bus stop say that to you?”


“Do the big kids say that to other kids from this bus stop, or just to you?”

“I don’t know.”

“Do you think that is something kind to say, or unkind?”

“Unkind. Then I have to find a seat with one kid or no kids.”

“If someone says, ‘You can’t sit here!’, maybe you can say, ‘I’d rather find a better seat anyway’?”


The conversation freaked me out. As soon as Martin boarded the bus, I texted his behaviorist, who sees him both at home and in school. With her approval, I also emailed the school principal.

The principal responded quickly: “I will look further into this situation today.  Is it possible that Martin is going to the back of the bus to sit? The long-standing tradition at our school is that the fifth graders sit in the back of the bus. The fifth graders will sometimes get overly sensitive about their ‘earned right’ to have the back of the bus.  I’m hoping that this is just a misunderstanding and an easy fix.  I will be very disappointed if there is more to it than that. I will be in touch.”

Later the same day, the principal sent a follow-up message, saying she had spoken with the bus driver, who would ensure that a seat behind him was always open for Martin, just in case.

I explained to Martin that fifth-graders sit in the back. He asked, “Then why do the twins get to sit in the back?” He meant our neighbors, who are in first grade. I had no answer.

The next morning, I consulted a fifth-grader I know, who also boards at our bus stop. She confirmed that fifth-graders sit in the back.

First bullying incident—might have been nothing, might have been something.

Subsequent bullying incidents—I’m worried. I’m always worried.

I’m a Wreck

Get used to this: I’m going to post about Martin’s newest adventure, general education. I’m going to post and post and post and post about Martin in general education.

At age two, Martin received center-based Early Intervention services in a six-child, seven-adult setting, that is, one-on-one.

Ages three and four, Martin attended pre-school in a self-contained special-education setting, where he was deemed too unfocused for a 12-child, two-adult classroom. He was placed instead in an eight-child, five-adult classroom, i.e., eight kids, one teacher, two assistant teachers, and two aides.

Martin attended kindergarten, first, and second grade in a self-contained special-education setting, in a classroom with 10-to-12 children and four adults, i.e., two teachers and two assistant teachers.

Two weeks ago Martin started second grade (again; he’s repeating) in our local public school, mainstream classroom, with an aide. That means 21 kids and two adults, i.e., a teacher and a teacher’s assistant, who is designated to assist Martin as needed.

This is a remarkable leap for Martin. For the first time, he will attend school with typically developing peers, and he will have to manage with far less classroom support. He will walk with me to the bus stop—in a 2016 suburb, I’ve learned, an eight-year-old does not navigate two blocks to the bus stop alone—and ride a regular school bus: no more short-bus pick-up and delivery directly to our door. He will eat lunch in a big cafeteria. He will be cast out upon the playground without any planned “social awareness activity.”

He may learn that not every child in his class is his friend.

He may get hurt.

The first morning unfurled with great fanfare. Martin chose to wear a t-shirt bearing his new school’s name. Adrian stayed home from work. He and my mother-in-law (still visiting) and I accompanied Martin to the bus stop, where we found five other families, some we knew and some we didn’t. All the other moms and dads had come to the bus stop, along with an uncle and a couple nannies, so we made quite a crowd. Martin greeted the twins from across the street but otherwise kept to himself. When a parent suggested a first-day photo, all the kids lined up and smiled, and Martin lined up and smiled with them. He even posed and managed to smile toward the cameras. When the bus came, he hugged me and Adrian and his grandmother good-bye—this was appropriate; all the kids were giving hugs—and boarded the bus without hesitation. The assembled adults remained, waving as the bus headed schoolwards. Adrian and I stood in the crowd, waving.

My mother-in-law and I had tickets to the U.S. Open that day. We went, only for a couple hours. I was a wreck, checking my phone constantly. I don’t know what I expected. Maybe a message that Martin was having a meltdown? Maybe a call from the school administrators to inform me, in hushed and apologetic tones, that they’d made a mistake, and Martin wasn’t the right fit for general education?

Our district offers us the services of a behaviorist, Darlene, who has worked with Martin weekly (or so) for more than two years. God bless Darlene. Knowing I would be nervous, she decided to visit Martin’s school that first day and observe him. Early afternoon, she sent me these text messages:

Doing great. When I walked in kids were sitting on carpet. It took me a few minutes to find him. He blended right in. Aide was sitting on the other side of the cluster from him. Teacher said he needs a lot of structure but responds well to it. Said she noticed that he thinks his thoughts out loud but we can work on that. He is participating in discussions and is doing well.

Recess he tends to like the swing. I spoke to Mrs. I [the aide assigned to Martin] and we gave him some small tasks. (Find someone from class, go say hi, go down slide, etc.) Then he could come back and swing. Will explain more later what I’m thinking of how to structure re essential while teaching social skills. Heading to another school! All good though!!

I responded, “Thank you!! This is awesome!”

My mother-in-law and I were home from the U.S. Open in time to join Adrian at the bus stop, along with my father and my niece, who arrived that afternoon for a visit. Martin alit the bus all smiles. With prompting, he told us about his new classroom and teacher and friends.

Day One was in the books.

I was optimistic. Still, as I told my friend Stacey, if this general-education placement doesn’t work out, that won’t mean we’ve failed. It will mean only that we moved too fast.

Goodbye on His Own

Special education means special transportation. Martin does not have to wait at a bus stop. Instead, a bus (yes, it’s the short bus) picks him up at the end of our driveway and delivers him back after school.

(Hurray! We have a driveway, and we live on a dead-end lane. Waiting for the bus is so much easier than when we had neurotypical kids parading past.)

When Martin comes home, I walk to the end of the driveway to meet him, and once he’s off the bus we follow a little ritual. (According to the principles of RDI, I vary the ritual slightly each day, to facilitate Martin’s dynamic intelligence.) I ask him how his day went, take his heavy backpack—containing a lunch cooler with glass and/or stainless-steel containers, a stainless-steel drink holder, multiple notebooks for my communications with his classroom teachers and his therapists, and sometimes spare clothes—and hold his hand while we wait for the bus to turn around at the dead end. Then I remind Martin that we need to wave good-bye to the bus driver and the matron, and I count to three, and we wave together as the bus passes us and beeps.

Yesterday afternoon something new happened. As usual, Martin took his time to descend the three steps and land on the driveway; he still tends to look forward instead of at his feet, so big stairs can be challenging. He walked two steps toward me, as if to begin our ritual—

Then, instead of coming to me, he turned around by himself, waved through the still-open bus door, and called to the driver and matron, “Goodbye! Goodbye! See you tomorrow!”

This may be one of those occasions when I need to explain, for anyone not raising a child with autism, what the big deal is. The big deal is twofold: (1) Martin did something different, and (2) he displayed awareness of those around him and their needs. He realized that the driver and matron were leaving, and that people who are leaving expect goodbyes.

Martin says goodbye a lot. He does so after I say, “We’re going. Let’s say goodbye,” or, “What do we say now, Martin?” I cannot remember a previous occasion on which he wished someone goodbye unprompted. Will he do it again this afternoon? Maybe. Maybe not. Often a new skill emerges, disappears, and then at some later date shows up in regular use. I’m less worried about consistency right now. The key is that social awareness is within Martin. With every bit that his body heals, we unlock more of the intangible.


Because the New York City Department of Education classifies Martin as a “preschooler with a disability,” he receives yellow-bus transportation to his special-needs preschool, at no cost to us.

(I expect at least one email reminding me that Martin’s services are not “at no cost to us,” because those services are covered by taxes, which we pay. Okay.)

The school bus—it’s a “short bus,” and now I resent the “short bus” jokes I made as a child—stops between 8:15 and 8:30 a.m. Our apartment is a fourth-floor walk-up. It can take some time to get distracted Martin down those stairs, so instead of waiting in the apartment, we try to have him outside by 8:12. Or so. You know how it is. Most mornings Adrian brings Martin down and departs for his office after the bus comes. If Adrian is traveling or has to leave earlier, I bring Martin down.

There is a public elementary school on our block. It has two special-education classrooms but serves predominantly typically developing children. Between 8:00 and 9:00 a.m. those backpack-burdened pupils (who are not entitled to bus transportation; that’s different in New York City than elsewhere) walk past our building, alone or with their parents or guardians.

Picture the scene: Martin and I wait within the small fenced area in front of our vestibule, while typically developing kids stream down the sidewalk, just outside the fence. They are a few feet away from us, but separated.

Occasionally the metaphor overpowers me. I feel bad, with a physical symbol—a black wrought-iron fence, for crying out loud—demarcating our space from the path for typically developing kids and their parents.

My solution is to open the gate and stand or sit, with Martin, on the curb where the gate would be if closed.

The gate itself opens outward and therefore becomes an obstacle for the school children to circumvent. Tough. It’s hard enough to have a kid whose autism separates him from other kids. I don’t need an actual fence doing the same.

I wonder: Does this seem strange, that I have to open a fence gate to feel better about our situation?

It’s the little things, right?

Martin and I head out into the open, looking for some fun as winter fades.

Martin and I head out into the open, looking for some fun as winter fades.

Martin shows Adrian how he can write letters in the sand.

Martin shows Adrian how he can write letters in the sand.