Education Parenting Special Needs

Graduating to Mainstream: A Letter to My Son with Autism

I worry about your transition from special education to mainstream. But I know you are ready.

By Rebecca Beck of Orthodox Sunflower

Son,

I cannot believe the time has come that you’re graduating special ed school. Has it really been 3 years since we made the tough decision to pull you out of mainstream school?

I remember how much we agonized over whether it was the right move. You were very sociable and the children in the sp-ed school were not really our type. You were sheltered and some of those kids were much more worldly.

But then I looked at your (almost non-existent) self-esteem and your behavior which indicated a deep unhappiness, like lashing out at everyone and being agitated, so the choice was clear. You were in a class of 30 boys and the teacher looked at me blankly when I asked if he saw any problems. That alone gave me the courage to go through with it.

As far as we, the Jewish community, have come when it comes to special needs, there was still some kind of stigma involved in sending a child to “that” school. Especially when we’re dealing with an invisible condition like autism. When I told people about our decision, they were very supportive, but I could see the question mark in their eyes, as in, “What’s wrong with her kid that he has to go to that school?”

Since we were keeping your autism quiet (you are very high functioning), we told people that you had learning disabilities. You took it like a champ and started the new school. Your former classmates were amazing and you got their full support.

Do you remember how exciting it was to be in a school with 3 children in a class? The personal attention you got was not to be compared to your old school. With the help of your amazing teachers and therapist, you started to thrive. Your social skills grew by leaps and bounds. My heart swelled when we began to reap the fruits at home.

I remember the day, after your sister told you how mean you were, you told her, “Imagine how you would feel if someone said that to you.” You were able to express to her how to put herself in someone else’s shoes. I think only an autism parent can comprehend how amazing that is. I don’t think you would have come so far had you not been in that school.

And now, here we are. You graduated. It’s time to go back to your former classmates. You have come very far, but there is always more work to do.

Now comes the hard part. You stayed in touch with your old schoolmates, coming back to the school for the school holidays. You were always treated well. But they still looked at you as the outsider, as the one who needed gentleness and pity.

As you go back full time, I worry. I worry so much. You will become part of them and they will hopefully begin to treat you as one of their own. That’s what we want. But you might encounter teasing, and I worry how you will handle it. You don’t always realize the difference between teasing and bullying. And if you’ll react to teasing as if it’s bullying, it probably won’t endear you to them.

You have one close friend in mainstream class, the one who has stuck by you through the years. I already got a taste of what things might be like when one day, you came home complaining that your friend was angry at you, he gave you the cold shoulder and you had no idea what you did to him. You asked your father to call that boy to clear things up. He told him that he felt you were suffocating him and he needed a break.

My heart broke when I heard this. That has been one of my fears. We did have a good conversation, though, about giving others their space, and hopefully you understood that it’s in your best interest not to stifle that friend so he will want to stay close.

The learning won’t be easy for you either. I worry about your self-esteem as you will slowly realize you’ll always be the one running to catch up to the rest of the class. In my eyes, the academic part of school is the least important. Sure, you need to do your best and that’s all I’m asking of you, but knowing how to navigate a social world is way more important in my eyes.

Son, all I can do now is pray. I pray for a successful year, for you to be accepted by your peers, and I hope you will take all that you learned and put it to good use. I have faith in you, in your abilities, and with lots of love and good wishes, I send you off to your new school.

Good luck!

Your (anxious) mom who wants nothing but the best for you.

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About Rebecca Beck

Rebecca Beck is an Ultra orthodox Jewish woman and mother of two. Her blog, https://orthodoxsunflower.wordpress.com, is a rare glimpse into the Hasidic way of life. She has been published onmamapedia.comoriginalbunkerpunks.com and Sammiches and Psych meds. Follow her on Facebook: www.facebook.com/orthodoxsunflower22 and Twitter: https://twitter.com/orthosunflower.