Gracie is my 11-year-old daughter.
Gracie was diagnosed with autism two years ago. A late diagnosis that has brought plenty of challenges. For those of you that have the pleasure of knowing Gracie, you know she is feisty yet quiet, hesitant yet has no fear, an over-thinker like her father, and creative like me. She wants to learn, yet gets easily confused. Always worried about what others think, but does not have a problem calling you out if you upset her. Gracie is my third child, my first daughter, and has taught me so many life lessons along the way.
Last year, Gracie was in 5th grade, getting ready to say good-bye to elementary school. Her dad and I had to go through the agonizing decision of “what now?” It was time for middle school, and we had two options. Two options that my husband was not pleased with. If he had his way, I would be homeschooling Gracie.
Many meetings were had with Gracie’s teachers at her elementary school. Which school, which program, would best fit my daughter?
I was doing my research behind the scenes.
Finally, collectively, Gracie’s support system had narrowed it down to two schools.
School 1~ A self-contained classroom. Usually having a small group, between 5-10 students, with one on one teaching from a special ed teacher and a para. Self contained classrooms help children with special needs feel safe, while also learning.
School 2~ A resource room classroom. A separate classroom that helps students with educational disabilities. Students are given specific instruction and help, while slowly getting them used to general ed. (transitioning classes, mainstreaming)
Clearly, I wanted Gracie in a self-contained classroom. With her transitioning to middle school, I knew it would be too hard, she would get over stimulated, trying to navigate the hallways to find her class. PE. Forget it. I already knew Gracie would have issues with changing into the PE uniform. Even at 11 years old, she still needs help getting dressed.
Yep! Self contained classroom, that was Gracie’s best fit.
Imagine my surprise when Gracie’s “team” disagreed with me. Although they were supportive (Teacher, Speech Therapist, School Psychologist) they assured me that they had all the confidence in the world with Gracie. There was no doubt in their mind that she would blossom in a resource room setting.
I of course thought they were nuts.
My husband and I talked it over for hours on end. Each and every night, we would talk, weigh the pros and cons, go over everything with a fine tooth comb. Finally, we relented and said we could try to do the resource room school. In all honesty, the only reason we ended up agreeing on that is because the school in general had better reviews than the school that offered the self-contained classroom.
And so a new journey begins.
When my husband and I took Gracie to her new school to pick up her new schedule, she had a breakdown. A full fledge breakdown. Crying, yelling “I hate this school, I am not coming here!”
When I took Gracie to 6th grade “camp” at her new school (a time for the new 6th graders to get to know their new school) another breakdown.
When the principal came over, Gracie had no problem telling him “I want to go home and I want to go home now!”
The principal gave us permission to go home.
At this point, I was beating myself up for not pushing for a self-contained classroom, and my husband was thisclose to telling Gracie she did not have to go to school.
I was fighting an uphill battle.
My new school routine with Gracie.
I could only walk her to her class when there were no other kids around. I had to make sure the halls were empty, and, the school grounds were clear.
When her teacher walked her out at the end of the day, I had to make sure I was standing right there, in my same spot, next to the flag pole.
I had to straighten her hair every day and pack her the same lunch of a ham sandwich, juice box, a bag of sour cream and onion chips and an oatmeal Little Debbie.
I could not ask her about her day. If I did, a breakdown would follow.
Every night before bed she would tell me “I just want to die, I do not want to go to school”
Every morning when I would wake Gracie up, I was greeted with “Do I really have to go to school today?”
I was blaming myself. I should have fought harder, I just KNEW Gracie was not ready for a resource room atmosphere.
My husband and I were struggling. Do we let this play out? Do we ask for a transfer to a new school? A school that offers a self-contained class room? Do we put Gracie through the stress of adapting to something new again, when she is already struggling? It was hard. Lots of fights, disagreements, questioning on if we were good parents.
Then, something started to change.
Gracie would have lunch with another autistic boy, in a quiet place away from the stress of the cafeteria.
When I would take Gracie to school, she would look at me with her almond shape brown eyes and ask “Can I walk by myself to class?”
When I picked her up from school she would tell me “School was boring, but I will come back.”
Gracie no longer needed to see me standing by the flag pole. It was now safe for me to sit on the benches….a safe distance away from the flag pole.
When I gave Gracie the opportunity to stay home from school because she would have a substitute in all of her classes for three days straight, she told me “No mom, I have to go to school so I do not fall behind.”
This is pretty powerful. It shows me that Gracie is willing to go through the hard things now, because she knows it will make her future things easier.
A shift was taking place.
The same kind of shift her former teachers knew would happen, but I was too blind to see.
Let me explain. These teachers are trained to see things that sometimes, we as the parents cannot see. We, as parents, want to protect are children, keep them safe and help navigate them through life.
These teachers, Gracie’s teachers, old and new, Gracie’s support system, at her former school and current school, saw the bigger picture. They were able to see things neither I or Gracie were able to see.
They were able to see Gracie’s strength in a different view.
Her teachers and I were looking through the same lens, just from a different advantage point.
My daughter is making progress.
That is all I ever wanted, that is what I need.
What we need.
Progress at Gracie’s pace.