K is for Killing Me

Today marks my daughter’s foray into the wild world of Kindergarten.  Her name is Natalie and she’s five-years-old.  When she was two, she was diagnosed with Autism.  Since then, we’ve had her in classes at the local Children’s Center and a year plus of Preschool.  It’s been a nerve-wracking experience leading up to this point.  Of course, we worried about Preschool as well, but Natalie thrived last year, shocking us all by being one of the top students in her class.

But this year, she faces some different obstacles.

Last year, she returned to Preschool in the same classroom with the same teachers.  Despite the long summer break, she quickly settled into routine because it was familiar.  This year, however, she’s been transferred to a different school.  Where her previous class was, literally, right around the corner from where we live, she now has a 40-minute bus ride each way to get to her class.  She enjoys the bus (which is why we let her ride last year, even though it was right around the corner), but it remains to be seen if she can maintain that attitude for such a long ride.

Even if she manages to make it through the bus ride, the destination remains unknown to her.  My wife brought her to meet the teacher and drop off supplies the other day, but Natalie wasn’t having any of it.  Strange place, strange people…she had no interest in hanging around.  How, then, is her teacher going to hold her interest for 3.5 hours a day, five days a week?

The classroom she’s going to is a structured class, comprised of children grades K – 2nd.  Each child has their own individual workstation and they’re given tasks pertaining to their skill level and comprehension.  So she might be working on shapes and colors and the workstation next to her may be doing math.  It’s an interesting concept and I hope the interaction with older children will help compel Natalie to talk more.  Unfortunately, she tends to skew toward younger children, kids she feels less threatened by (and those who come across as not pushy).

I think this is a great milestone for her, and if all goes well, she’ll be in this structured classroom through the 5th grade, giving her that stability and sense of familiarity she craves and thrives on.  I know there will be a period of acclimation; I wouldn’t expect a traditionally developing child to jump right in on their first day–or even their first week.  But at the same time, I can’t help but feel like a lot is riding on this transition.  Natalie’s ability to cope with change is going to be challenged from here on out and it will dictate her scholastic success moving forward.

We’ve already conquered some of our fears for this school year.  This morning, she was up at 0730 (despite being more of a 9-10 girl) and she was in good spirits.  When we got her dressed, she offered no resistance and even got excited when she saw the bus coming.  We had high hopes, because for the past week or so, she’d been inexplicably talking about school and buses.  We made it a point to not mention school–even though we wanted to prepare her for going back–simply because her meltdowns often occur when her expectations and reality fail to coincide.  Others have pointed out perhaps she saw the commercials on TV, but we only really watch shows that are prerecorded and we fast-forward through the commercials.  Perhaps she just has an excellent internal calendar.

Whatever it was, the morning was a success.  All I can do now, is sit back and see how it goes.  That’s true for both my wife and I, but I dare say I have it worse (I know she’d disagree with me).  She has a few hours to herself and then my daughter will be back to her.  I have a long wait to get home before I find out how day one went.  I’ve already called once and got the answering machine.  So it comes down to patience.  I have distractions all around me, but my heart and mind are with my daughter.  And yes, the not knowing is killing me.

*EDIT* Before I published this, I called my wife again and got the update.  Apparently, Natalie *loved* the bus ride, so much so Norma had to physically remove her from the bus when she was dropped off.  Unfortunately, the teacher wrote in her notebook that Natalie seemed distracted and resorted to biting herself on several occasions.  As proof, my wife saw purple bruises on her arms from where she’d bit herself.  This isn’t entirely unlike her, but it’s not something she resorts to all the time.  Clearly, she was having a hard time dealing and couldn’t express herself in any other way.  I’m just grateful she didn’t take it out on the other students or get destructive.  Time will tell if she’s able to adjust, but I have faith in her.


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