Today is the first day of school for my daughter.
I officially have a middle schooler—I am also a nervous wreck.
My daughter is considered “educationally autistic.” This means she falls under the criteria of needing extra assistance from the school system to be successful. Her diagnosis of “autistic” ends when she steps foot out of the school building at the end of the day. She does not fall under the medical classification of autism.
Our main struggles circle around anxiety. Rigidity is important in her schedule. She thrives on routine and visual cues as reminders. She is very literal in everything she does.
My child processes differently.
What may come easily to understand for most children doesn’t quite hit the mark for my daughter.
Sarcasm was a hard concept to grasp. Even now, we’ll have to tell her we are being sarcastic as she just doesn’t always get it and takes something to heart when it isn’t meant to be.
Social norms and acceptable behavior are also a struggle. Something a “normal” eleven-year-old would know as socially acceptable completely fails to be comprehended by my child—and it is okay. She is just wired differently than the majority of her peers.
For a time, going to the early rounds of Individualized Educational Program (IEP) meetings would reduce me to a puddle of tears thinking that I did something wrong as a parent.
Was there something that I should have done differently?
The best thing I ever heard from her support team was, “It’s just her, there’s nothing wrong, that’s the way she came out the chute.”
You have no idea how many times that blunt statement has saved my sanity.
With that being said, let’s get back to the fact that today is the first day of school. I have a severe case of “Mom Anxiety” and I am hoping for a successful first day for her.
We met with the staff last week, we met with her new Special Ed teacher as well. He started to get her all organized when we took her supplies in, advised us on a couple more things we could buy to make organization easier for her, and make transitions into the switching of classrooms flawless.
My daughter has her schedule and her locker combination down already. My husband keeps telling me it will be fine. She will be fine and the day will go just fine.
I need to stop worrying—but I can’t.
As the morning gets closer to her having to catch the bus to embark on a new school and a whole new routine, I can’t help but think about the struggles I had in middle school and I don’t want that to happen to her.
She is wired differently. I don’t want her to struggle, not only with learning but also with the way middle school children start to treat each other—especially when someone is different.
I know I am not the only parent going through this kind of anxiety. The first day of school is a monumental day for our young learners. How these first few days go sets the precedent for the year.
Despite my anxiety, I have to sit back and take a deep breath.
After all, every single time I had doubts and worries about my daughter, she has blown me out of the water with how well she adjusts and overcomes anything in her path. Just because she processes differently and at a different time schedule compared to what is the “norm,” doesn’t mean she isn’t doing great.
Maybe deep down the hardest part for me is the realization she is growing up. Part of me wants to hang on to the little girl that needed her mom to protect her, not the young lady she is becoming—the young lady that is grabbing life by the horns and just doing what needs to get done despite what we consider her struggles. After all, that’s all she knows and she has done perfectly fine so far.
So that is what I am going to do, take a deep breath and trust that my daughter will be fine, just like my husband says she will.
Being a parent is hard.
Oh, and to my daughter: Happy first day of school. I know you’ll do great!
Author’s note: That is my daughter, releasing newly hatched baby turtles into the wild. She has collected and helped hatch turtle eggs every year since she could walk with her grandparents. Her love of nature makes my heart happy. When she releases each one, she tells them all, “Have a good life and have lots of babies.”