Diary of a Special Needs Mom: Back to School Jitters

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The following narrative blends stories from our real Abram’s Bed families to fictionally capture the trials and successes we experience as special needs families. None of the names or situations is meant to resemble a specific reality, but the universal difficulties are intended to enlighten and endear.

In my family, summers are awesome. This year we drove to the Smoky Mountains, camping along the way and spending some time at Dollywood. A few days on the river canoeing, a couple of weeks with their dad, a couple of weeks with my parents, and a bunch of evenings riding bikes and chasing fireflies have made for a pretty decent summer.

And now, I’m trying to gear up to get my two boys back to school—Jacob in particular.

Jacob is in third grade and is on the Autism spectrum. He continues to learn new skills to navigate through his young life. Nevertheless, change, noise, chaos, and excitement trigger him, so going back to school and joining a new class is much more daunting for him than his older brother. In fact, he has hinted that he might be coming down with MRSA or toxoplasmosis. I am quite certain he thinks this will get him out of school indefinitely. He even inquired about schooling in Antarctica. I told him that I didn’t think they have schools there. Jacob wanted to know if we could move there. I’m trying to pick my battles. I’m not looking for jobs in Antarctica yet, but I am trying to plan ahead to try to make Jacob’s transition back to school easier.

This year, I’m vowing to start early:

  1. Set a schedule and a routine. I figure if I can get Jacob on a regular sleeping schedule, the pattern will be more normal once school actually begins. And I know he’s better with predictable patterns anyway, so I’m hoping this will set him up for SUCCESS.
  2. Stay familiar with the school surroundings in the summer. The more familiar, the better. We’ve had a couple of play-dates with his classmates and spent some afternoons on the school playground every week.
  3. Exercise. Funny, Jacob has started running laps around the house. If I sense a meltdown and I know it’s not food or exhaustion, I run with him around the house. He usually feels better, and it gives him a chance to calm down. Helps to calm me down too…bonus.
  4. Prevent sensory blowups at school. First, I’m super careful to remove all of the tags from Jacob’s clothing. If I don’t, he can’t sit still or focus because he itches so much. Second, one of Jacob’s biggest triggers is noise. Last year, I sent noise-cancelling earphones to school with Jacob and told him to put them on if the classroom gets too noisy (of course I told the teacher that this was his way of giving himself a “time out”). The teacher loved it. Ms. Anders would give him 5 minutes in his “quiet place,” then check on him, and see if he was okay. Jacob has become amazing at self-monitoring this to prevent blowups. It’s great.
  5. Give good sensory tools. Jacob likes to squeeze things. I bought him a new stress ball to keep in his desk. This should soothe him and allow for relaxing sensory engagement. It’s strange, but if he is squeezing something, this helps him to focus when I’m talking. I should probably tell the teachers about that too….

I haven’t started researching cures for toxoplasmosis yet, and I certainly am not moving to Antarctica. Going back to school is stressful on Jacob, so my goal is to continue to find ways to make these summer-to-school transitions easier. With a little planning and some great ideas, Jacob might be almost okay with the idea of going to school.

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