While I’m spending the week trying to balance having two young girls home with me and somehow sleeping during the day (thanks mom and Aaron for the help!), I’m also keenly aware that the school year begins again starting next week.
I’m always on the verge of a panic attack before the first day of school. Last year, it was due to my disappointment that Cordy wouldn’t be in a mainstream kindergarten class, wondering if she’d miss out and never get the chance to prove she could hold her own with typical peers. It wasn’t a plan I was happy with, but it turned out very well thanks to a teacher who immediately saw Cordy’s potential and a school that is apparently completely caught up in Cordy’s charm. She was gradually introduced to the mainstream class during the year until she was spending nearly half of her day with them.
This year, my sweet Cordelia gets her chance. She will begin homeroom each day by checking in with her special needs teacher, but will then spend (hopefully) all of her school day in a mainstream classroom. This school has never had a split first/second grade classroom (a mix of both grades in one class, with the teacher teaching to individual levels), but this year Cordy will be a part of this special class, and I can’t help but wonder if this class was designed with her in mind.
In our meetings last year, there was a lot of uncertainty about what to do with our smart but socially limited child. If she remained in the special needs class, she’d get individualized academic instruction, but would lack the challenge of learning to survive in a neurotypical world.
If she went to a mainstream first grade, we’d be faced with two options: let her follow the first grade curriculum – a curriculum that her teacher tells us she’s already mastered in kindergarten - or send her to a second grade class for the subjects she’s strongest in: math and reading. The first of those options would leave her bored and therefore prone to act out, and the second option would involve so many transitions from classroom to classroom during her day that we’d be setting her up for failure.
It was during all of these discussions that Aaron and I were strongly considering pulling her out of public school and exploring the idea of a Montessori school. Sure, we’d have to sell a kidney to pay for it, but at least then she’d have an option that had the best chance for success on both the academic and social/emotional fronts.
And then at the end of the year Cordy’s teacher offered up the solution of the split class. She’ll be able to work at a second grade level academically if she’s ready for it, but socially she will have first grade level expectations placed on her. The teacher for this class is well regarded and is already familiar with Cordy. (Her son was a typical peer in Cordy’s preschool class.)
Like I said, it’s as if they designed this class for my daughter.
I took Cordy to the school last week to visit with her special needs teacher, and she discussed this year’s plan with Cordy. I can already tell Cordy is nervous about the change; it’ll likely take a few weeks for her to adjust to this new routine. The teacher walked her to her new classroom, showing Cordy that the two classrooms are just a few doors away from each other and reminding her that she can come visit her special class if she needs a break.
Still…I’m nervous. I want this to work. My heart aches at the thought of Cordy struggling with the social norms of a typical class (what if the kids don’t like her, or worse, what if they tease her?), but I know it’s what she needs to do. Every day I want to wrap her up and hide her away from everything that frightens and upsets her, but I have to draw on my own strength to reassure her and then send her out to face her fears, repeating the process whether she succeeds or fails, over and over again.
Ever since we received the autism diagnosis, I’ve hoped that Cordy could have as normal of a childhood as possible, including an education in a mainstream classroom. She’ll always be eccentric – I wouldn’t expect anything less from my child – and it’s likely she’ll have trouble fitting in. Even if she can’t blend in with the crowd, I want her to better understand how that crowd works and how to work around it.
So I’ll likely be an anxious mess for the next few weeks as we see how well Cordy adapts to her new class. We’re lucky that she has a lot of people interested in seeing her succeed, including those directly involved with her education. It also helps that the kid has a track record for rising to the occasion when needed, and we’re hoping this experience is no different.