- Walter Winchell
It's hard to believe that another school year is upon us. Yet here we are less than 2 weeks from the start of school, and 5th grade for Helena.
On paper, it should be a good year for her. This will be her second year working with the same case manager, and her third year in the same building, and with the same aide. And, with 5 years in this school with many of the same kids now in 5th grade, Helena knows most of her classmates. And familiarity and routine are good for a child with autism.
Yet there are so many differences as well. A new teacher. A new classroom. A new wing in the school building. Having to use a locker for the first time. More homework. A body that's beginning to change, and hormones that are starting to awaken.
And, the most important question: how well to Helena's classmates really know her?
I am not worried about whether or not Helena will succeed academically. She is a very bright girl. Will she struggle in some areas? Yes, but that is what her IEP is for. We have in writing extra help for her in her areas of struggle - reading comprehension, writing, taking timed tests, etc. And we have contingencies in the IEP if she gets frustrated and needs a break, or if her frustration becomes disruptive. These are things with which a "neurotypical" (I hate that word) child has little difficulty, but can be huge obstacles for a child with autism.
But as Helena gets older, the more I realize that the most important people in her school life are her classmates. These are the people that will interact with her the most. Even more importantly, after this year many of this years constants will change - the building will change, the teacher will change, the aide will change, the case manager will change - but her classmates will remain throughout her academic journey, through middle school next year, and on to high school far too soon after that.
Ultimately, aside from Helena herself, these classmates will be her biggest advocates, and the most important people to have understand who she is, and how autism affects her and others on the spectrum.
Back in April I gave a presentation to Helena's 4th grade class as part of Autism
But now she is in 5th grade, with a new set of classmates, most of whom were not in her class last year and did not hear my presentation. So it's time to present Helena and autism to a new set of advocates. Only this time, I'm not waiting until April - I'll be doing the presentation sometime in September. The school and I both agree that it's far more important to do this in the beginning of the school year.
The presentation will be pretty much the same one I gave in April - talk about famous people who either are or are suspected to be on the autism spectrum, talk about Helena and her autism, talk about how autism affects her (and how it affects others differently), talk about ways she is just like any other child, and talk about how Helena's classmates can help her and others on the spectrum.
I can only hope I get another child to respond like the one in 4th grade, who said he was inspired to find a cure for autism when he grows up. But I'll settle for classmates who are more accepting of Helena and sensitive to her needs, as well as ones who leave the room with a better understanding of autism. For all the IEP meetings and teacher conferences and letters and communications I will have with the school this year, I fell like this is the most important thing I will do to advocate for my daughter.
Ultimately, I would love to convince them that the presentation needs to go beyond Helena's class, perhaps to the entire 5th grade, or even the entire school. After all, Helena isn't the only child on the autism spectrum at her school!
It could be 1%. 1 out of every 100. Just like what the statistics are saying now.
Or maybe even more.