I have dreamt about this day for two months. Back to School- it’s the gateway to structure, routine and a happy mom. My daughter has always preferred school to summer. Trust me, it’s not for her love of school and learning, but for her love of ritual and of the known. Holidays and extended school breaks have always been a time of struggle for this family.
Today begins at 6 am. The time was determined by my daughter a few years ago, three hours is the time required to mentally and physically prepare for an outing. I’ve tried to change this idea numerous times with no luck. This is a foreign concept to me, as I was that child who slept through my alarm and woke everyday with just enough time to make it to school. We have anticipated, precisely planned for, and spoke endlessly about the first day back to school for weeks.
Wondering why three hours? Well, this is the schedule: Wake up, have a smoothie (same one for the last 6 months), watch one 30-45 minute show, rest and cuddle the baby (dog), get dressed, hair, makeup, brush teeth, bathroom time (usually an hour time slot), chill on the couch with all three dogs, bathroom time again (must extract every ounce of waste prior to leaving the house any time). All the while, giving me instructions to ensure I am ready to leave when she is.
I’ve had my two coffees, I’ve cleaned the house, started laundry, finished my to do list and made her lunch. Lunch is the most difficult of tasks, as this child doesn’t like much. Just as I get comfortable serving up the same meals every day to please her pallet, she no longer likes it. Getting a good dose of nutrition into her has always been a challenge. Her food of choice is sugar and well that just doesn’t work for many reasons. I jam pack her lunch bag full of snacky items in hopes there will be something in there she will eat.
I’m at the door as requested. Sweatpants, slippers and keys in hand. I’m prepared for the dash to the car. I’ve warmed up, I’ve stuck my ever so patient mama face on. I’m disgustingly sweet and uber positive pumping her up from the doorway. ‘You got this!’ ‘It’ll be great!’ Another five minutes in the bathroom and then I hear, ‘Let’s go now!!!’ Like a hurricane, she throws open the bathroom door, grabs her bag and shoes and runs out to the car in her socked feet. ‘Let’s go!’ There is urgency, for she may change her mind about going. I am on a mission to get her there quickly without adding any more anxiety. The car is started, and we pull out of the driveway. Her school is a whopping 2-minute drive away (5 by foot) but I ‘m not about to argue over her plan or give her a hundred reasons why she can walk (I’ll save it for tomorrow). The drive is part of her plan and with any luck it will help lead to a successful day. Today I am a silent driver. I dare not jeopardize anything with words. My thoughts are racing. ‘No change of mind yet’, ‘Look at her so confident and beautiful’, ‘This has to happen’, ‘She’s going to have a great day’, ‘I hope she makes some new friends,’ ‘I just need one day to myself,’ ‘Oh, I love her so much!’, ‘If she doesn’t go, I will cry’, ‘Ah look at how she did her hair, so cute.’
Then we arrive. All that’s left is for her to enter the school and I am a free mama. As she exits the car I yell, ‘Love you, Poo!’ She’s walking towards the school entrance and I cannot bear to look her way. If she turns around and we make eye contact this miracle could easily turn into a catastrophe. Her anxiety-ridden, hormonal heightened eyes could tell me she can’t do it. But today, she didn’t turn around and there was no catastrophe. She was excited and ran straight through the school doors, and I burned rubber out of there. Kidding- it’s a school zone- but it’s what I would have done if I could.
Three hours of preparation and now I can finally breathe a huge sigh of relief. I am overwhelmed with gratitude and so very proud. She’s a star, she’s my girl. Tomorrow will be a new day, but the three hour routine will more than likely remain the same.
Some of our Family Facts
I Am That Mom
I am that mom who occasionally, unannounced drops into the school with updates, ideas, and my opinions on specific teachers. I am their advocate. Instinctively, I am very protective of my crew.
Unlike other moms and dads who request EA support in the classroom, this year I needed to ensure that my child would receive no visible support. My daughter would prefer to be unnoticed and to simply blend in. It irritates and upsets her more if she gets any special treatment. Fortunately, she does very well academically. I literally went into the school last week to request that the EA’s ignore her existence, unless otherwise noted. Although, we have always been grateful for their support in the past, today, she doesn’t even want them to say hello in the hallways. The term, ‘Autism’ is her nemesis. With a late diagnosed, she never accepted it. She has yet to willingly participate or engage in any intervention or behavior support services. On another note, my son could care less about the label, ‘Autistic’. He would gladly take advice, talk about or work on skills with anyone. His autism does not define him, it’s simply part of him that he is not ashamed of.
Summer vacation and any extended holiday can be extremely difficult in our home. Not only do transitions affect me but my entire family would agree they are a challenge. No definite plans, no scheduled routine, no guaranteed friends, no consistent sleeping patterns and a lot of the unknown. You would think how relaxing, but it’s the exact opposite. Anxiety is high, sensory issues are off the charts, patience run thin- it can be a bloody war, especially with my 3. I can not imagine going on a holiday without extreme planning and constant discussions of what the holiday will look like. Removing my family from their element all at once for any length of time could be the death of me.
It is not just children on the Spectrum that struggle with change and structure, adults do too. My husband needs quiet, down time. During the school year he typically gets this once the kids have gone to bed. Summer messes with his routine as the kids are generally up later. He’s lucky if he can find any quiet at any time throughout the day. This can cause him upset, frustration and a feeling of out of sorts. These desires are actually needs.
Both anxiety, and gut problems are quite common in individuals on the Autism Spectrum. These two come hand in hand for most of us. However, consider those who struggle to function on a good day and throw these obstacles at them too- debilitating is an understatement.
Attendance at school for it my daughter has been wishy washy for years. ‘Late for school’ is her middle name. To be honest, I don’t care how and when… it’s whether she gets there that matters to me. It’s a celebration and an accomplishment. We’ve had some challenging times with mental illness. We’ve missed days, weeks and months. Trust me, anything is better than that!