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Communication is Key

My boy has started middle school and, along with that, comes a new concept of independence.

I’m not exactly sure why, but for some reason, as soon as kids leave elementary school, there is this notion that they are somehow prepared to take on this new role of being a responsible human being. They get cell phones and become little townspeople, moseying down the main drag. It’s like, over the summer between 5th & 6th grades they develop grown up sensibilities and fly away towards tweendom.

It’s a rite of passage, around our town at least, I guess.

But what if your child is not ready for that? What if your child still doesn’t like to stay home alone for more than a few minutes? Let alone, venture into town to snag a slice of pizza or a smoothie. I mean, don’t get me wrong, Jackson would love an opportunity to enjoy some chow, but he still wants us there with him.

I pointed out the kids walking into town after school one day and asked J if he would like to do that. He said, “Maybe…in the spring. Hey mom, do you know what my favorite part of [insert name of pixar movie here] was?” and that’s the end of that conversation.

That was it. That was the discussion. I asked, he answered. We’ll revisit at a later date.

In the meantime, for some reason, the same expectation of independence and self-regulation are present at school. There is a very different hands-off approach as soon as these kids start middle school. So much is handled by technology, so there is very little occasion for parent interception of information taking place. Which is hard. Really hard for those of us used to being in the loop, and our children who have relied on that for the last 11 years!

Don’t get me wrong. I want my child to be independent. It is a goal. I want him to go to college, live on his own, get married, have kids. And so does he. And I get that it has to start somewhere. I do. I really, really do. But, does that day have to be the first week of school??

It’s hard enough for kids without ASD, ADD/ADHD or SPD, or any other developmental or learning disabilites. The key factor they’re still lacking at this age is the ability to complete a full thought process. The ability to bring a fulfilled concept, an idea to fruition. They have great ideas, but they still need help. From teachers, from us parents, from friends.

Issues with communication and autism, though, go hand in hand. Yet, what autistics need most is the ability to communicate their needs somehow, someway. For those who can’t do it themselves, that’s where we come in. Those of us who advocate for those who can’t. Communication is the single most important thing we need to ensure our kids’ success in this world.

For me, for my son, I have to be that conduit of communication to the world for him. Jackson is verbal, yes. And I am extremely grateful for that. Even when he is going on and on about his Cars movie cars, or his timeline of all the films of Pixar, or even the Fred videos on YouTube! I remember once when he was going on and on, my father said to me, jokingly, with a smile “Well, you’re the one who wanted him to talk!”

It’s true, of course, I did. And I still do.

As we begin junior high school, there are a whole new crop of people involved in Jackson’s life: teachers, aides, administrators, case managers. And none of them know him yet. They don’t know how to engage him, or how to keep him engaged. They don’t know how to get him to share and participate in class. They don’t know how funny he is, or how when he smiles he lights up the room. They don’t know when he needs a break. They don’t know how to approach him, converse with him, get to know who he is as a person, and as a student. They haven’t invested enough time with him to get him to open up just yet.

So, they need some help. From me. A conduit. But it is a delicate balance. How can I be the voice my child cannot, while not interfering with the processes already in place at school? How can I get and receive information that my child is not yet capable of communicating to me, or to them, without the eye rolls and snickers about me being a helicopter parent or how he would be better, more independent if I didn’t do this for him?

And, for most other kids, that would be true. Most other kids don’t need their mommies to email clarification about their homework in 6th grade. But, I do. Almost every day thus far.

Middle school is big on the idea that 6th grade is when these kiddos begin their journey toward independence and I think that’s great but it doesn’t apply to every child. Sure, the goal is to get Jackson to be independent but it doesn’t happen the first day he enters the building. There are procedures that need to be in place. Accommodations and modifications that need to be set up for him to succeed.

Right now, he is free falling. He is showing up and he is trying so hard. He has barely whimpered about the work he has to do, or the extra practice that has been added to his plate. He hasn’t complained about carrying a heavier backpack and his violin 4 days a week. He hasn’t complained about having to go to school 40 minutes earlier either. He is a trooper but it doesn’t mean that just because he’s not verbally communicating that it’s a lot, or maybe even, at moments, too much, doesn’t mean he’s not feeling that it is.

I have to look out for the signs. So do his teachers who do not yet know what those are, other than disengaged. Maybe they think he’s tired.

A huge part to Jackson’s success is his behavior plan. This is the part of his IEP that makes him want to work hard. It is a plan to keep him on task and reward him for doing so. Under this plan, he knows he is working toward a goal. His attention is improved, and his off task behavior is lessened because he REALLY wants that reward. But, with a new school, and changing classrooms and everything else that comes, it needs to be reworked. And that takes time. Time that we really don’t have but have to be patient enough to wait for. Data must be collected to see how long he can stay on task in order to set how long they expect him to stay on task going forward.

I usually say that by the Halloween he is good to go. He understand the routines and what is expected of him. This year is no different. And, once again, I have to step up to make sure he is getting all that he needs.

A mom is all things: a warrior, a savior, a mess, an opinionated fool, a shoulder to cry on, a hand to hold, a soft lap to cuddle in, a friend, a rock, a referee, a therapist, a judge.

So, please don’t judge, or criticize, or snicker when you see me flustered and aggravated. Don’t feel badly for me, or my child when you see me in a tizzy, looking for answers. This is my journey, and you are welcome to join me on it, just as long as you do it with love and with an open mind. As long as you try to understand where I am coming from and that I do everything I do to give my child the best opportunity at the life he deserves. THAT is my job!

Call me whatever you want, it doesn’t phase me but please just remember that my name is Mom.

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