When I first moved to Colorado this past August, my dad and I were driving around trying to find a school or facility for my three year old son. Shane, a precocious, wildly smart kid, needed to find a place to go every day, or he’d go mad and simultaneously drive my husband mad. As luck would have it, we found a school relatively close to our new home, and the director just happened to be there setting things up for the upcoming school year. It was as if the childcare gods had smiled down on me.
The teacher had never met a child she couldn’t teach. I explained he was used to being a big fish in a small pond at his previous school. Teachers loved him because he was smart and fun, and he was used as a neurotypical model for students who may have been struggling. I wanted him taken down a notch; I wanted him to learn he wasn’t always in charge, and he wasn’t always going to win, and he wasn’t always going to be the smartest. The blended age approach of the school seemed perfectly suited for this, and she was ready.
Shane never quite fit in to the school. At first I thought it was because the subject matter didn’t quite appeal to him. Then, I thought it was because the students had been together and he was just kind of coming in after cliques had already been formed. In retrospect, this was a crazy thought on my part since the kids ranged in age from 3 – 6, far too young for cliques. I began to think it was because the teachers weren’t warm and fuzzy enough for my sweet, adorable, little dude. Nevertheless, I persisted in my belief this was the best place for him.
As time wore on, Shane’s behavior became a problem. He was disruptive, he knocked down other people’s work, and he never made friends. Parent/teacher conferences were held with each parent offered a thirty minute time slot. I was asked to come early so that we could block out over an hour to discuss Shane. I was given books to read and as I diligently read them, I explained that I welcomed any guidance they could offer me.
Then came the day he was sent home. The teachers couldn’t continue to chase him around, and he was making a series of poor decisions. I met with his teacher again, and she advised we seek professional help as Shane was always two steps ahead of teachers, and everyone was at their wits’ end. I immediately made calls, and spent much of the following week making appointments. I was referred to a mental institution, behavioral therapists, neuropsychologists – you name it, I tried to find help. I eventually found a behavioral therapist who would go in to the school to observe him and we could get to work. The doctor went to school that Friday, met with the Lead Teacher for over an hour and left with the understanding the school was on board and we were all going to work together.
Then came Saturday morning. We had finished basketball for the boys, and I had just finished my Zumba class – the one hour I get to myself each week, and I was in a great mood. Shane’s teacher, it seems, had called my husband during my class and asked that I call back. I did, and she told me that Shane’s challenges were too great, and she had to think of the other children. I explained to her we were doing our best, and I asked if he’d be able to return after we got some interventions in place. I was told he could not. I cried. Sitting on the floor of the YMCA hallway, I cried.
I cried because we were doing everything we could. I cried because I felt as though I’d failed my son. I cried because they were giving up on us.
Then, I got angry. And, I got incensed when I told my son he wasn’t going back to school anymore, and he started to cry. “Why,” he asked. “I love my school, Mommy.” I explained he had been making sad decisions and that I thought he didn’t want to go anymore, and his response was, “But, I only got sent home twice. What about Egypt? And Susie?” My heart broke. Shane had no idea why he wasn’t going back, and I was made to look the bad guy.
Do you know why Shane was dismissed from that school? Because he was, as it turns out, autistic. They gave up on us before this was determined, and no one really had a clue thanks to how smart he was. But, as the pieces have come together, it’s clear that this was the issue. They gave up on him because they were going to have to consider bending their approach. They were going to have to work a little harder. And, instead of doing that, they asked him not to return.
I have wrestled with their decision for weeks now. I have wanted to go in there and tell them what I think about them and their fancy pants school. But, the reality of it is, he didn’t belong in that school – it wasn’t serving his needs. And, I don’t think I listened to the clues as well as I should have. I wanted him to succeed. I believed it was the best for his brain, when really all the kid needed to do was play more. It was a tough parenting lesson to learn, and one of many I will continue to learn as we walk our path forward, I’m sure. My heart still hurts that these teachers made a decision that made my son cry and that they gave up on us, but I will never allow it to curtail just how hard I work for my boy.
I wish I could say that I have learned something I can pass on to other parents, some pearls of wisdom to share from this experience. Unfortunately, as I walk through this crazy journey of motherhood, I imagine I will have a number of these lessons – occasions where others let me and my kids down, where I push for the wrong thing for my son, where I think I’m right only to learn I am wrong, and where I am the “bad guy” for telling my kids they can’t do something for some reason they don’t understand. As far as I can see, we all stumble through motherhood the best we can, and only hope we land on our feet to fight another day. I’m still standing, and I hope you are too.