August 26, 2015

A Back-to-School Mantra for Parents of Children with High Functioning Autism.

Photo Credit: Jes Wright

Back to school is the second most stressful time of the year in my house, so I’m constantly repeating the above mantra to myself.

I always loved school—the smell of new books, pens and notebooks and the possibilities of learning something new while hanging out with my friends. I wasn’t necessarily a geek, but more of an avid learner who dressed as a punk/artist with my hair dyed jet black.

But for my son, who has High Functioning Autism (HFA), or what’s known as Asperger’s, back to school time is like being forced into a torture chamber.

Senses are overloaded. Social cues are not always there, so communicating with peers can be a little unsteady.

Basically, everything that makes it nerve wracking for a teen entering a high school is intensified a hundred times for him.

I imagine that I’m not the only mom (or parent/caregiver) out there who dreads the start of a new school year for their child with HFA.

We try not to be a helicopter parent, observing them from a distance so they can figure it out on their own. And it doesn’t always work.

We expect those phone calls of “mom, I’ve got a headache,” which translates to, “I’m emotionally overloaded; please come pick me up.”

We try to stay bright and cheerful while our child laments about the injustices and poor design of the public education system in America, so we segue into talking about one of John Stewart’s episodes (or whatever happens to be our child’s fascination) in order to bring them back to a steady, playful space.

We attempt all these negotiations while looking effortlessly relaxed to others, but we are not.

We’re burnt out.

We need a little bit of loving.

We’ve learned too much about the laws of special education even though we were trained to be vintners, geologists, civil engineers, vets, nurses or writers.

We get that the public schools weren’t designed for teaching children on the spectrum, but for the regurgitation of facts while students behave in an orderly fashion regardless of whether or not their senses and emotions are overloaded.

We’ve come to the conclusion that schools should (and some have done it) be created with the reflection of a caring society, not as a by-product of capitalism.

We try not to fall down the rabbit hole into frustration because all the previous years of education have been filled with unplanned complications ranging from bullying to needing adaptive physical education due to poor motor coordination skills.

And yet, we sigh, realizing that this year may be different because we finally have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), so his classes will have accommodations for helping him learn in the least restrictive environment. And, maybe, just maybe he’ll enjoy school—finally.

We try not to show our exhaustion by putting on a positive face for our children.

And it’s not easy, so this is when we need a little bit of loving from others.

Here are a few tricks that might be of benefit to those who love us:

1. Distract us from our worries about whether our fledgling is going to sink or swim during this back-to-school time.

2. Ask us to go for a walk/bike ride/hike/spa day/movies/coffee or beer. Take the risk and contact us. We may be so frazzled that we forget to reach out to others.

3. Listen as we talk about the woes, but then redirect us to a whole new story about the larger world around us. We’ll be glad that you did.

4. Give us a hug. So simple, but it is so needed.

5. Pat us on the back, and tell us that we’re doing an awesome job, because we feel like it’s never enough, especially after all the jumping through hoops for special education services.

6. Share this above mantra meme so we will remember that it’s all part of the chaos in the transition time for our beautiful children.


Author: Jes Wright

Editor: Toby Israel

Photo: Courtesy of the Author

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