Wednesday, August 17, 2016


Sky starts middle school today, so yesterday we visited the new building to get his schedule and to meet with his peer buddies. This was our second visit. We met the social worker and got the lay of the land back in May in an effort to prevent Sky from obsessing about middle school all summer. PSA: If you have an ASD kid who's prone to worrying, DON'T let him read the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. Like ever. I mean, they should slap a warning label on those books or something. Our visit last May helped, but it didn't totally erase the gloom and doom Sky expected from middle school thanks to Gregory and company. In an effort to survive the summer, we had not to talk about middle school AT ALL.

The whole orientation process was supposed to take about an hour. We were at the school for a brutal two and a half hours (during which time, I am pretty sure I lived about seven lifetimes). And, I was reminded, again, why we make so much effort to lay the groundwork for Sky. I mean, he is doing so, so, so well in so, so, so many ways, but he still has some pretty intractable struggles. Change is HARD. Dealing with the unexpected is STRESSFUL. Having all of the newness of middle school before you with Diary of a Wimpy Kid as your point of reference? IMPOSSIBLE. (You think I'm overdoing it with the caps? This is me showing restraint.)

We started in the library with about 20 other students. After long, awkward minutes of waiting, we were joined by several "peer buddies" who had been trained to walk their peer partners around the school as a way to help ease their transition. I'm pretty sure their training didn't cover what to do if their charge became catatonic with fear, though. Because, that's what happened. The wait was just long enough for Sky to become completely unhinged. Too many kids he didn't know. Too much tension. By the time Sky was joined by his sixth-grade and a seventh-grade peer buddies, he was a wreck.

Bless their hearts, the two boys were so earnest in their attempts to give Sky the low-down on middle school. Sky could have none of it. His anxiety was so severe, he never made eye contact and never managed more than a mono-syllabic whisper in response to their questions--if he answered them at all. As they tried to walk him through his schedule, he hung back, desperate to flee. The entire time, he mumbled under his breath various combinations of the following: "I can't believe you are making me do this. I am not ready for middle school. I have no idea what they are saying. How am I supposed to remember everything?  I want to leave. Right now!!"

I knew he wanted nothing more than to be back home, and I really wished I could have made that happen for him. But, I also knew that if we didn't get through the orientation, he'd have a horrible time his first day.  The entire tour, Sky remained steadfastly determined to get the heck out of there. I don't know that I've ever seen him so petrified, so robbed of his ability to communicate, but we soldiered on--all four of us feeling pretty miserable.

As soon as we could, we politely excused ourselves from Sky's buddies with a vague plan for the boys to meet him again on the first day. Our next stop was the assistant principal's office where we needed to figure out a schedule problem and request a locker relocation from the middle of a locker bay to a quieter and easier to manage end spot. Sky remained petrified. He couldn't speak. He couldn't make eye contact. I could see tears hovering in the corners of his eyes.
Asst Principal: "Welcome to middle school! Are you excited?" 
Sky: "...." 
Asst Principal: "How was your summer? Did you do anything interesting?" 
Sky: "...." 
Asst Principal: "I went to the Grand Canyon." 
Sky: "...."
Eventually, he quit trying to make small talk with Sky and looked to me for the lowdown. We talked briefly about Sky's anxiety and the best methods to address any issues that might arise during the year. Then he got to work; not only did he immediately solve Sky's schedule and locker issues, he also reached out to Sky's case worker to let her know we were at the school and that Sky was near DEFCON 1.

And, suddenly I was reminded of why I love this district so much. As Sky broke down at his locker, frustrated by binders that barely fit, overwhelmed by the all the new information, and scared of the unknown (How would he find his classes? Who would be in them with him? What was he supposed to take to every class? How could he possibly survive middle school?), his case worker, Ms. Hart, dropped by to say "hi." 

Within minutes, she addressed all of Sky's worries. One by one, she gave him concrete and easy-to-manage strategies. She introduced him to the PE teacher, walked him through the PE locker room, showed him her locker key in case he couldn't get his open on the first day, showed him how to hold the locker just so when it sticks, promised to walk him to each and every class if needed, and tracked down a copy of the school emergency map so Sky could visualize his schedule.

Sky's map.
Sky went from 120 straight minutes of being on the verge of tears--unable to speak or make eye contact--to being able to smile and laugh again. The transformation was striking. By the time we left two and a half agonizing hours after we'd arrived, Sky thought just maybe he could make this whole middle school thing work. And, by the time he got on the bus this morning, he'd memorized his locker number, his combination, and the way to all of his classes. In fact, I'm pretty sure he'll be the most prepared kid in the whole school!

It's hard to be a parent when your kid struggles. You have to push them through things when they don't know how to get through it on their own. When they fall apart, the balance between supporting them and making sure they are learning the skills they need to make it in the world without you seems impossible to calculate. Having good social workers and special ed case workers has made school an entirely different experience for us. They get Sky. They get that he doesn't need a lot of support, but the support he needs is pretty important to his success. Being in a school district that understands this has had a hugely positive impact on Sky's world. And, it's made my world a lot more manageable, too.

And, so, we live to fight another day. Now we just need to survive puberty!

1 comment:

trellian said...

Go Sky, you can do it!