We went to visit a local elementary school this past Friday. Recently, I spoke about wrestling with sending Debbie to an Autism Program at another school. I was torn between her leaving her elementary school of the past 5 years and not “graduating” with her peers and sending her to a brand new school with brand new adults and brand new kids. The Autism Program at Winfield Elementary School won.
Debbie may leave her comfort zone and she will need time to adjust to her new surroundings. Buuuuuut….this program is AMAZING and Vince and I know that she will thrive and succeed. The school embraces ALL kids, regardless of ability. Let me repeat myself. This. School. Embraces. ALL KIDS. ALL KIDS! The 5th grade goes to the Special Olympics to cheer their friends on at the Games. There are bulletin boards dedicated to those kids who participated in the Special Olympics. Kids in the autism classrooms are invited to birthday parties. And they are invited, not because kids feel sorry for them, but because they are friends and want them there. OH. MY. G-D!!!! The school is not divided into “us” and “them.” Every single child is a part of the school and accepted and encouraged to learn and grow.
The school will tailor a program to fit Debbie’s needs both academically and socially. I am truly looking forward to Debbie being in an environment that accommodates and meets her needs so that she can flourish. Vince and I left Winfield on Friday being 100% sure that we are making the right move.
Today we we went from 100% sure to 110% sure about our decision. We went out to dinner tonight after riding bikes and decided to go to Outback. It was packed but Debbie insisted that we wait the 20 minutes instead of going someplace else. For 99.99% of the meal all was well. Debbie tried and ate the Bloomin’ Onion, downed her soda, and ate her fries and one-third of her chicken fingers. She knows the rule is to eat the chicken fingers, especially if she wants “a little bit more soda.” I made a deal with her. Eat the rest of the second chicken finger and she could have some more of Vince’s soda. At this point, she was getting loud and stimmy and really in need of her nighttime meds. I should have let it go knowing that she was tired and becoming overstimulated by the noise around her. I decided, however, to stick to my guns. Debbie, instead of saying, “I’m full,” kicked Joey…hard and she hurt him. So I took the soda away. That of course led to a further downward spiral. It wasn’t horrendous. But she did get louder and louder and then she hit the blinds on the window. And of course, because Outback was crowded, it was taking forever and a day just to get the check. At that point I had enough and pretty much escorted Deb out of the building. Vince paid the check and we left. Joey was mortified but we talked it out and came to the conclusion that yes, meltdowns, tantrums, and behaviors like tonight suck and it’s okay to admit that they indeed suck. But, we also have a choice to make. We can let the suckiness of the situation break us or we can say, “Yes, Debbie has Autism. And yes, sometimes because of the Autism she has tantrums and meltdowns. And yes, the tantrums and meltdowns suck. But it’s over now and it could have been worse and next time, hopefully it will be better. And to those people staring, instead of staring, if you’re not going to help (which is fine!), then please turn the other cheek. We got this!”
Joey and I got to the car. Debbie and Vince followed shortly after. And this is where the decision about sending Deb to the Autism Program became 110% definite. We were driving home and without any prompting from Vince or me, Debbie says, “I’m sorry. I know you’re very upset. I’m sorry for hitting. Mommy, I’m sorry. I know you’re very upset.” Vince and I were floored. We thanked her for apologizing and then I prompted her to look at Joey and apologize. She told him the same thing and then repeated her apology to Vince. It was so genuine and totally came from the heart. (Who says people with Autism don’t have empathy?!) We know that she was thinking about it, processing it, and trying in the best way she could to make it better. She fell off the bike but she got back on and tried again. Winfield Elementary’s Autism program will help her open up her lines of communication and help extinguish some of these physical behaviors. Will it be perfect? No. Will it be better? For sure! And every time she falls of the bike, we know she will get right back on and continue to peddle!