03 September 2014

It takes a village to raise a (SN) kid.

Yesterday, the twins had their first day of Kindergarten.
It was a nervous day, all around, but not just because it was their first day of school.

Autism.  It played a huge role in this school year coming about.
It was the guiding force in the decision for Mr Boy and Miss Girl to even start Kindergarten this month.... a whole year early.

When you have twins, you do your best not to compare them, but that doesn't stop them from doing it; it doesn't stop strangers from comparing them.  Having one twin with Special Needs can only make it that much more of a challenge.  We want them to stay together (same grade) even when they are apart (different classes).  It was decided, at the beginning of the summer, that it was best to try to mainstream Mr Boy.  None of us know how its going to go.  In Pre-k, he was in the Special Needs classroom because of all his therapies.  In Kindergarten, he will still recieve two of his therapies, but will reside in a Mainstream classroom.  We are in new territory, and we don't know whether he will sink or swim.

So, this is our trial year.  This is the year when we learn if Mr Boy is ready for Mainstream.  This is the year we work with the school, to figure out our plan for the next 6 years.  If he does well, and keeps up with his class, then we will continue on, smooth sailing.  If he struggles too much, and needs a different setting, we can move him to the Special Needs class.  If this year blows up in our faces, and we have to start all over again, we have next year.

Starting the twins a year early means, if all else fails, we can hold them back a year.  Several administrators questioned that approach, and how it would effect Miss Girl.  They said it could be detrimental to her education.  Yes, her education is important to us, and yes we know that they are two individuals.  What we also know is this:  To separate the twins, hold one back while the other progresses, would kill them, emotionally.  Our daughter is her brother's "keeper".  She is well versed in his quirks, and can calm his frustrations with a hug and a few quick words.  She looks out for him whenever they are outside the house (school, shopping, soccer, playdates, park, etc) and makes sure he is included in all group activities.  She loves her brother, and takes her self-appointed responsibilities seriously.  Separate grades may not effect them now, but it sure will effect them down the road.  If she transitioned to middle school before him, who would be there for him after school?  They would hardly ever see each other.  He would be at school from 7:45-3:20, and she would be at school from 8:20-4:00.  That may not seem like much time away from each other, but for siblings, its an eternity.  And lets not talk about the emotional and mental effects it could have on Mr Boy, to be a year behind his twin sister.
If it comes to it, yes, we will do it, but we won't go down without a fight.

So, now that the back story is laid out, we can get to the grit of this post.
The first day of school.

One of the benefits of military service is that most units have what is called a "zero-nine (09:00) work-call" on the first dat of school.  It allows Active Duty parents to walk/drive their kids to school on the first day, or take them to the bus stop.  Usually, we are at work by 6am, and thus missout on this ritual.

So, we were up at 6:45, in preparation for a 7:45 departure.
We ate breakfast as a family (which is rare during the week), and their big sister (Ms Artist) called from college to wish them luck.

Everyone got dressed, and around 7:30, we headed out to the bus stop (the end of our cul-de-sac).
One big stipulation we had, when meeting with the school:  If they can't ride the SN bus together, then they will both be riding the regularly scheduled bus.

The other kids at our stop know the twins, and are friendly with them, but everyone at our stop is in different grades and classes.

All the kids were pretty nervous, and aside from parental probing, mostly kept quiet.

As the bus pulled up, hugs were had, and the kids filed onto the bus bravely, turning and waving as they reached their seats.  The older kids gravitated to the back of the bus, and the younger ones sitting up front.

The twins were at the back of the line, and as Boy reached for the arm rail, and went to take his first step up the stairs, he slipped.  Within seconds, both the bus driver and myself found our ways to him, and I picked him up, meeting a face of silent tears, and a busted chin. 
The tears weren't from pain.  Mr Boy has had 2 heart surgeries, 2 other surgeries, and has been poked and prodded since the day he was born.  Looking into his eyes I knew.  I knew they were tears of frustration.

On top of being on the Autism Spectrum, Mr Boy also has a mild form of Cerebral Palsy.  He didn't walk until he was 14mo, and even then, it was spastic and he was prone to falling.  He works harder than most people even realize, to make his arms and legs do what he wants them to do.  His fine motor skills (tooth brushing, using a fork, etc) are still a work in progress, but for the most part, he has few issues with walking or running. 

His biggest Kryptonite: Nervousness.

When Mr Boy gets very nervous, his limbs tangle and his coordination crumbles.
He is getting better at controlling it in soccer and when he goes out, but new places/experiences can sometimes catch him up.

His tears were out of frustration.  His body had one simple job: get him up those 3 stairs.
It wasn't something we had even thought of as a problem.

We had trained him for the noisy bus, the possible bullies, the weird bathrooms, the new teacher, eating lunch in a cafeteria, fire drills, etc.  He was so prepared for this new adventure, and the thing that brought him tumbling down (literally) was a set of stairs.

It crushed him.

After convincing the bus driver that I could handle the situation (no need for police/ambulance), I told Miss Girl to hop on the bus, and I would take care of her brother.
She hesitated, worry evident in her eyes, but I promised he'd be fine.

I work in a health clinic, but it is a 40min drive from our house.  I knew he only needed a few stitches, so we went to the emergency department of our local hospital, about 10min up the road from our house.  They were great with him, and as soon as they scanned him in at the front desk, his Autism diagnosis popped up on the screen.  They saw that, and (it was not busy) took him straight back to our own room, and got him screened and ready for the doctor.  Everyone who came into the room knew his diagnosis, and talked to him, not me.  They asked him questions, and explained every step of what they were doing.  They gave him a button, and told him that if he needed them to stop, all he had to do was push that button, and they would stop whatever they were doing.

He calmed down a lot at the hospital, and was very brave when they numbed his chin, and started stitching him up.  He pushed to button only once, and everyone immediately backed up, and once he was ready for them to continue, they did.  He got 4 stitches.
On our way home, he asked if he could go to school, now.  After a Wendy's Frosty, and a shirt change (why we always carry spare in the van), I brought him to school, and we walked to his classroom.
He admitted to being scared, and asked me if I could stay with him, in class.  The teacher called down to the office, and got permission for me to stay, this time.
I set myself up at the back of the class, behind him.  For the first hour, he looked back constantly, to check that I was still there, but as he began to focus on the teacher, the searching looks got fewer and farther between.
A few minutes before the end of the day, the Principal, school therapist, and bus driver pulled us out of class a few minutes early.  Mr Boy was scared that he was in trouble, but the therapist quickly assured him that was not the case.
She apologized to him for not introducing him to a bus during his IEP/SN orientation to the school (This is her first school year at the school), and promised to do that next year for the SN students.
We brought him outside, and the Therapist and bus driver helped him familiarize himself with where his bus would be parked, and we helped him get comfortable with the stairs, helping him go up and down several times.

He was still apprehensive, but some of his nerves had dissipated by the time the bell rang.
The 2nd-5th graders all came out to load the busses (the K-1st and led out by the teachers), and we stood by, waiting for Miss Girl, as the older kids loaded the bus.  One of the players from my older soccer team (I coach 3rd and 5th graders) approached me, and having seen what happened that morning, asked Mr Boy how he was doing.  He reassured Boy that it would be okay, and promised to sit with him if he wanted.  Mr Boy let out a shy smile, and nodded feverishly, in agreement to that deal.  So, when Miss Girl finally arrived at the bus, Player helped Mr Boy up the stairs, and took a seat with the twins, near the front of the bus (where all the little kids sit by default).

I told the bus driver I'd meet them at the bus stop, and then hurried to my car before the busses finished loading.

When the bus arrived home, Player was true to his word, and walked Mr Boy to the front of the bus.  Miss Girl came off first, and turned around, to give her brother encouragement.  With grave concentration etched across his face, and his trusty spotter behind him, Mr Boy made it off the bus safetly, and had a big grin on his face as he gave his sister and me a hug.

I thanked my Player last night at practice, and he shrugged it off.  He said, "They are part of the team-family, Coach.  And you look out for your team-family"

This morning, my boss let me come in late again, to make sure things went smoothly for the twins.
When the bus pulled up, Player came up to the front of the bus, and made sure Mr Boy made it in safely.  Even though his job could have ended there, he led the twins to the back of the bus, to the seats he'd saved, and introduced them to the other 5th graders.

Today is the first day I truly believe he will be okay this school year.