After visiting several preschools over the last few weeks and after much fretting, I signed Sam up for a “fours” preschool class that starts in the fall. Just three mornings a week, it will be in addition to his special ed preschool which he’ll continue to attend in the afternoons. I hope! We still need to get through the IEP, but I know from speaking with other parents that this is not an unusual path to take, especially in their second year of preschool.
I worry, of course. It will be a huge change for him. The 8:1 teacher-child ratio is pretty big in itself. The potty-trained prerequisite makes me panic each time I change another diaper. (Don’t get me wrong, we’ve made real strides here! Filling that potty every morning and every night before bed…) What scares me is the potty-going perfection required, as in “He must be able to pull up his own pants.” or “He needs to be able to wipe himself.” Seriously? NT kids are actually doing this at 3.5? I’m already looking into private OT to deal with just the potty, and so you can imagine what our summer is going to look like.
But I did choose this one preschool because, as I quietly observed the classroom dynamics during my visit, I could picture my child here. At first I was hesitant to even mention the word autism to the school director. Instead I toyed with euphemisms like speech delay and sensory issues. The power that one word has, at times, to handily precede a person into the room is not fair in my opinion.
“He does have an autism spectrum diagnosis,” I said after waiting for over an hour to register him.
I think I expected at the very least a raised eyebrow or a note of concern, but the director didn’t even skip a beat. “We’ve had several kids on the spectrum here,” she replied. “It’s been really positive for a lot of them.”
Yes, it’s about being around neurotypical peers. But it’s also about being part of a greater community. Many of the neighborhood kids go to this preschool and Sam may very well attend kindergarten alongside them in a year or two. It’s my hope that he will start to learn some of the unteachable social skills that I know he lacks, like turn-taking, like conversation. I’ve seen him study peers and pop a foreign snack into his mouth because another boy did it first (no matter that I have offered him same stated snack a zillion times before without success). I’ve watched him study a crying child at the playground and go over to see if she is okay.
I know that he is racing towards his future and I can only steer this ship so much. I can’t keep protecting him from the world, the big scary one where kids bully and don’t understand differences. I don’t want to keep him from knowing others, but more importantly, I don’t want to keep others from knowing him.