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  • Writer's pictureKatie Vahey Gaebler

Back to school: what I know and what I don’t

Updated: Jan 28, 2021

Driving B into his new school year teacher Meet-n-Greet, I said to him, “I can’t believe I have a 1st grader!” Par for the course, Brys was off on a rant that bounced between cats, hamburgers, something about 5th grade, and the bag of classroom donation supplies sitting next to him. Nearly 10 minutes later I repeat my phrase again, by this time we’ve almost arrived, and as I’m parking he offers one of his occasional profound Brys-isms: “Mom, your boys are getting so big, my pants barely fit!” Sigh.

Back-to-school time snuck upon us especially fast this year. It was a summer full of transitions, and life feels different now compared to my previous years balancing an office job as “working mom.” I’m fairly certain this coming year is meant for me to stay home with my boys, but there is the inkling I may return to a traditional office environment. While our nanny Casey (whom we love) will be moving on (a linchpin sign for me that I should stay home), I’m a candidate in a search for a position I could be exited about. But my work balance is not the point of this post (that can be for a later date). This post is about B going back to school, and what I’ve realized this week about I know, and what I don’t.

I know that the ASD classroom Bryson was placed in last January is a good fit for him. He needs the structure and consistency of what that classroom environment provides him. We try to replicate that consistency at home, and his energy level and easy distractibility make that my ever-challenge, so I’m thankful for his school. I know the ABA program we have in place is one of the best decisions we’ve ever made. That his Behavioral Interventionist (BI) Conar, is a wonderful human being and my top pick of anyone who would spend so much time with my son (it wasn’t my choice, we picked the ABA company and Conar was placed with us). That the past year that Casey has been with us was an amazing coincidence, that I couldn’t have made it through such a difficult year without her support, and that we will miss her so dearly (although she is moving on to a situation that’s a great opportunity for her, and we’ll still see her as she will still occasionally sit for my kids). These things I feel I know.

What I realize I don’t know is as much about ASD as I thought I did, and navigating this world as the best advocate I can is trickier than I realized. With B having changed schools so many times, and all the school and doctor meetings, with the privilege of my education and work history as a student centered advocate, I thought I knew something. And then I had a conversation recently with our ABA Clinical Supervisor, Leigh, a simple question from her changed my perspective. “What is the school’s plan for B’s “push-in” (integration) [to the mainstream classroom]? I had no idea.

This was after saying how much I liked the school, I trusted the social workers at his previous kindergarten that recommended him for this program, that I was thrilled how much B enjoyed his primary teaching aide, Mr. H (who has- sad for us- moved on). The previous spring had been such a world-wind; between me trying hard to stay in a job that wasn’t a fit, Wesley ever growing, and regular daily responsibilities, I was just thankful when he started in the ASD program I wasn’t getting the daily dreaded phone calls. But I realized at the end of last school year, maybe no news was still good news, but it was still no news. I heard very little about how his days we’re functioning. Generally he was a happier guy, was willing to share a little conversation over dinner, and the consistency school offered showed in his ABA progress. All that was amazing progress in itself! But aside from the transition-in meetings and some end of school year wrap up, there was limited communication between home and his classroom.

At the meeting this morning, I asked whether there was a plan for a back to school meeting, and B’s teacher replied since his last IEP meeting was in December, those meetings were typically once per year, but I can request it at any time. I said I would like a meeting and planned for our Leigh to participate. My questions included the plan for their approach to integrate him into the mainstream classroom, the plan to support his GT (gifted & talented) eligibility, what school events would he be participating in, and that we could provide an update on his ABA progress. I also wanted to meet the 1st grade teacher that he was assigned, since I had yet to receive any correspondence from her, which I realized upon having this conversation with his ASD teacher, was odd. These are all things I now know we wouldn’t be on the same page about, if I didn’t ask.

My experience advocating for my son has run deep, and leading up to his transfer into the ASD school program, was a daily practice. But what I hadn’t realized before this week was that just because my advocacy got him this far, we still have so much further to go.

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