Monday, January 28, 2013

Getting Ready for Kindergarten

  I had always been worried about where Mikey would go to school after preschool had ended. Words cannot express how excited I was to learn that a new program was being introduced at a local elementary school for children with autism. The class would be made up of six boys, all of whom had similar needs.
   I received a letter inviting me to attend a meeting at the new school. This gave us an opportunity to meet the other parents, tour the school, and learn a little about the program. At this point, I felt as if someone had handed me a gift, because I had never wanted him to be far from us. Now, he would attend school in our town, not our particular district, but ten minutes from our home.
   I remember attending the meeting and hearing all kinds of promises, how they would take wonderful care of our son, how they had an "expert" in the field who would oversee the program, how they had special consultants, wonderful aides(which turned out to be true), and a teacher that brought along with her a terrific resume and reputation. It all sounded too good to be true, however, I went in with an optimistic attitude, so grateful to know that he would be close by.
    We spent the last weeks of that summer preparing Mikey(and me), for his new school. I spent my days doing what most moms do, buying school clothes, sneakers,school supplies, etc. The only difference was that I also had to send in pull-ups,wipes, and special snacks. Mikey had been doing very well in the personal hygiene area, but like many other children his age and in his situation, was not yet fully toilet-trained. Again, my mind started to wander. I did not like the idea of anyone else working with him on such a personal level. Yet, I had to put my fears aside, and try to trust these people that I hardly knew. Not an easy thing to do.
The staff that I had met at the meeting seemed like a very nice group of people, and the aides, were all moms like myself, and they appeared to be excited about the program. Once again, I had to give up that control that I was desperately trying to hold on to, and learn to trust these women.
   The other thing that was making me uneasy was the part of the program that dealt with using edibles as rewards. This had also been used at the preschool level,and I was not a fan. The program was an ABA program, which means Applied Behavioral Analysis. In layman's terms, that means a child is asked to repeat the same thing over and over again, until they felt he had mastered the word he was learning, or the task he was learning. As a reward for being compliant, the child is often given something edible, such as an m&m, or a piece of popcorn, or a chip. This irked me to no end.It reminded me of Pavlov's dogs, and my child was not a dog. Aside from that, who eats one m&m , or one piece of popcorn? The one complaint I had about the preschool was that they had utilized this often, and rewarded Mikey with gummy fish, or jellybeans, which  unbeknownst to me , was leading to cavity after cavity. In my mind, food was something a child should never have to work for ,never mind having to repeat the same word twenty times for a lousy few m&ms.
    I tried (honestly, I did try), to push all of my concerns aside and focus on what was best for my son. We drove him by the school a few times, showed him the playground, told him the names of the other boys in the class, and gave him as much of an introduction as possible. When the first day of school had finally arrived, I was ,yet again, feeling sick to my stomach, but Mikey was as happy as could be. I wondered if he would be thrown off when the bus went to a different school, and when different teachers greeted him at the door. When the bus pulled up, Mikey met his new driver and matron, and happily boarded the bus. I also noticed that he was the first one on the bus,because all of the other kids lived closer to the school.I wasn't happy about that either.
   How my heart ached as his bus pulled away and his precious little face was leaning against the bus window smiling at me. I turned away , and did what I always did....I followed that bus.

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