I have coined a new syndrome: My Kid Is in Special Education But It’s Not the Same Way Your Kid Is in Special Education and Mine Isn’t Staying in Special Education So Why Bother Being Friends Syndrome, or MKISEBINSWYKISEAMISSESWBBF Syndrome. I know that’s a cumbersome, but I really think it could catch on.
I encountered MKISEBINSWYKISEAMISSESWBBF Syndrome four years ago, on Martin’s first day in a preschool for children with special needs. Half a dozen parents and caregivers were in the waiting area before school ended. Some seemed to know each other already. I saw a woman alone, as I was alone, so I introduced myself and said it was my son’s first day at the school.
The woman checked me out sideways, without facing me. She wore gigantic diamond-stud earrings, and honestly, her hair looked much better than mine. She was picking up her daughter, she said. Also first day here.
Did they live near the school? I asked. Was it a long trip like we had, coming from another borough?
The woman didn’t answer that question. Instead, maybe thinking that I wanted to follow up personally, instead of just make small-talk, she said that her daughter had spent the previous year in regular private preschool, and that really everything had been fine there and her daughter had no trouble socially or academically, and had many friends, and was now going to this school temporarily to help with some mild dyspraxia, and as she and her husband expected their daughter to return, by next year at the latest, to her regular private school, they were planning to keep her friends and social peers in that school, not this one.
Yesterday, at Martin’s last day of gymnastics, MKISEBINSWYKISEAMISSESWBBF Syndrome struck again. Martin is one of the few kids who doesn’t participate in the JCC’s afterschool-busing program, because that program is offered only to the school district immediately surrounding the facility. He’s jealous of the kids who come directly from elementary school to the JCC by bus, with no mommies or daddies. This week he asked to bring his backpack to gymnastics class and put it with the other kids’ backpacks, I guess so he would look more like them.
“What district do you live in?” the assistant instructor asked when I explained why Martin had his backpack. We had arrived five minutes early, so we had time to chat. I told her our school district and that, right now, Martin has an out-of-district placement and attends a private school in another town. In another year or two, he might transition back to the district school, either to a self-contained special-education classroom or to a mainstream classroom with an aide.
“We’re in that district, too,” the assistant instructor replied. “Actually, my son, Andrew, is just changing schools. He went to first grade at D elementary school, but for next year they’ve just placed him into the self-contained second-grade class at G elementary school.”
This was quite a coincidence. Our district had been trying to convince us to place Martin next year into the self-contained second-grade class at G school—Adrian and I disagreed with the recommendation, thinking it is too early to pull Martin from his very successful current placement—but the district officials had abruptly stopped pushing us a couple weeks earlier, when the last spot in the G school class had been taken. Now I realized that the student who had filled that last spot was this assistant instructor’s son, Andrew.
I like the assistant instructor a lot, and she seems to have a good connection with Martin, knowing when to give him those bits of extra help that make possible his participation in a non-adapted class. I said, “Martin has friends in the self-contained class the year below him and the year ahead of him, and his mainstream friends attend S school and M school. I would love for him to know another student in the self-contained class for his year, so that he’ll have a friend if he moves into that class in third or fourth grade. Do you think Andrew would like to do a play date sometime?”
“Sure,” the assistant instructor said. “I mean, I guess. Actually, Andrew’s trouble is really just remembering what he’s been taught. Just an academic issue. He’s probably not going to be in the self-contained class for more than a year.”
Memory problems. Remembering what he’s been taught. Not like your kid. Not all that autism stuff.
I didn’t bother to get her number for a possible play date, and she didn’t ask for mine.
This post must sound like I’m judgmental toward those moms who suffer from MKISEBINSWYKISEAMISSESWBBF Syndrome. I’m not. Looking at the big picture, isn’t my approach to Martin’s autism a lot like MKISEBINSWYKISEAMISSESWBBF Syndrome? Even if I don’t say it to other parents, I’m constantly thinking, sure, Martin has autism now, but he won’t have it forever. Soon he’ll look more typical. Soon we won’t be in this spot.
And even if I couldn’t relate MKISEBINSWYKISEAMISSESWBBF Syndrome to my own actions, still I wouldn’t judge. As I recently wrote on a friend’s Facebook page, isn’t survival just the art of balancing what’s healthy against whatever gets you through the night? If another mom needs to think her kid isn’t the same kind of special-ed student as my kid, I’m willing to let that be her reality. Whatever gets her through this night.