Thursday, August, 25, 2011 was Shelby’s first day of elementary school. I have been asked several times why we did not choose to homeschool her and although I know I have stated here multiple times the reason, I will briefly repeat it for those asking. Shelby’s exact placement on the autism spectrum has not yet been determined, but she does appear to be on the “lower functioning” end of the spectrum because of the severity of her sensory processing disorder, the fact she is non-verbal, and her very low level of fine motor skills. Social growth has been Shelby’s greatest area of growth (surprisingly because she is non-verbal) and we believe it is in large part due to her being in school with normally developing peers. Because Shelby is on the lower end of the spectrum, at this time, there are almost no academic goals for her as she is still learning what are known as “life skills.” How to brush her teeth, she isn’t potty-trained yet, she needs to learn how to follow a picture schedule and use a social story (if any of this terminology sounds like a foreign language, email me or leave a comment and I can email you more details). At this point in time, the best way for Shelby to learn these skills is to be in a public school setting where she will receive speech and occupational therapy and still have the peer interaction and have a teacher specially trained (or “highly qualified) to teach autistic students. Certainly autistic children can be homeschooled, but it is not for me and not for Shelby.
This year would begin with the “first” we were worrying about the most. The bus ride. For us, riding the bus is part of going to school and the difficulties of picking your child up and dropping him or her off are multiple. For one, it requires I get the boys up and ready earlier than I would otherwise need to. The wait to drop your child off or pick them up is significantly longer than for them to get on the bus and get going. And, for Shelby, it will be a valuable life experience. However, Shelby is scared of diesel engines. The noise bothers her tremendously and usually provokes a very vocal response. The coordinator of transportation was at Shelby’s open house and he checked and informed us that the type of bus Shelby would be riding is a new type of diesel bus (it has a name, but I don’t remember it) that is not nearly as loud. He also informed us that our school district has “done away” with the “short buses” because of the stigma associated with them and to help reduce incidences of bullying. Not that it particularly matters with Shelby, but her bus has only special needs students on it, so certainly some who are more aware will benefit.
Wouldn’t you know it, in a classic case of being worried more about our autistic child than the two normally developing ones, Shelby walked onto the bus no problem. With the help of a monitor she found a seat. Will was heartbroken he was not riding the bus and going to school. And our whole neighborhood heard about it.
A neighbor who drove her son called me a short while later to report that she had seen Shelby walking in the hall holding the hand of one of the classes teacher assistants and smiling. She snapped a picture for me.
Shelby’s report for the first day of school was excellent. It took her a little while to warm up, but she was a joy both before and after. Her teacher reported she loves helping “sing songs” in circle time, she loves to dance and paint and work with her classmates. She is eating the lunches we are packing her (and has a new food, green grapes!) and she is listening. I’m sure she will have her moments, but I am thrilled for her to have this experience and it be so positive.