Back to school brings with it a flurry of paperwork, school supplies and brand new expectations. It also seems to serve as a marker of our kids’ growth. Ryan hasn’t changed that much over the last couple of months and yet I now look at him as a third grader. Somehow, third grade feels so much bigger than second.
I still remember Ryan’s first day of preschool. First, we tried a preschool/childcare center which was a very bad fit for him. A few months later, he started a language based preschool program through the public school that was the perfect fit for him. He was so small and vulnerable at that stage. He looked at everything in the world with his eyes wide open and wanted desperately to participate. He latched onto the adults in his environment (thankfully the adults in the public school environment were receptive to that) and was a pro at making them fall in love with him.
I was so scared for him at that stage. Even before we knew that he was autistic, the world just seemed so big and overwhelming for such a little guy. I’m sure every preschool parent feels that way to some degree. As we went through the process of getting him special education services and his autism diagnosis, I worried even more about his future. I never would have pictured the confident third grader that I have today.
Kindergarten was a struggle for Ryan. We moved to a different school system and all of the supports that we had in place for Ryan disappeared. The new school was far less accommodating, looking to provide as little services and supports as possible. It was also overwhelming for Ryan. The school was much larger, louder and filled with more kids and unexpected transitions. This school district had a heavy emphasis on state testing and even in kindergarten prioritized worksheets over hands-on learning. It was a tough adjustment for my little guy and he went through that entire school year completely stressed out.
Right before Ryan started first grade, we moved again. This time to our tiny town in New Hampshire. His school was so tiny that they decided to have two first grade classes (for the first time in the history of the school) because there were 23 students in the grade. Ryan started in his tiny class in the tiny school and he thrived. He found a place that was just right for him and third grade was a year of tremendous growth for him.
I never could have imagined the transformational magic of that first grade year for Ryan. Suddenly, school didn’t need to be an overwhelming source of stress and dread. He found his fit where felt at home and could learn and grow happily.
Second grade marked another beginning in the same school and Ryan continued to thrive.
Third grade has marked a few changes for Ryan. The two classes were combined back into one, so Ryan has a class of 21 (versus the 12 and 10 of previous years). I was worried about the change, but Ryan has seemed to take it without any issue at all. Third grade has more work and demands, but he doesn’t seem so vulnerable any more. Instead of this stressed out, vulnerable kid, Ryan has grown into a strong and confident kid who knows that his school and community are here to support him.
I am so proud to see that growth. I am so happy that we live in a community that has helped foster that for Ryan. There are still plenty of bumps along the way, but I know we can get through them all.