I’ve always loved the start of a new school year. The smell of fresh paint, chalk and sharpened pencils. The crisp spine of a composition notebook, bright white pages and the ritual of making book covers out of brown paper bags. During my Catholic school girl years, I spent those first few weeks of school dressing with care: ironing out my pleats and adjusting my knee high socks. I loved the feeling of brand new leather shoes – snug without creases, their laces clean without frayed threads.
I don’t know if Norrin looks forward to any of these things.
And as I see other parents get ready for a new school year and the first of “1st Day of __ Grade” pictures pop up in my Facebook feed, I am reminded that our back-to-school experience is different. Norrin will most likely never start the first day as any kind of ‘grader’ as he is in an ungraded school.
There isn’t a long list of school supplies to be purchased. There are no text books to cover. There are no pencil cases, protractors or compasses. We buy one notebook – a communication book to keep updated with Norrin’s teacher.
While Norrin’s not starting a new grade, he is moving up to a new class of older kids. Norrin’s in an ungraded class of 6 kids, 1 teacher and 2 assistants. The kids ages will vary between 8 – 11. (Which will be interesting since he’s been with the same teacher and kids for the last two years.)
If Norrin were a typical kid, he’d be starting 3rd grade. The grade when standardized testing begins. His IEP has been updated and he will take the tests with many modifications. But we will see. All I want for Norrin is the opportunity to try.
I have let go of mainstream dreams – I know a typical school is not appropriate for Norrin. I accept Norrin’s school and I’m grateful he’s in such a wonderful place. But still there are certain times of the year that make me a little sad. I wonder what Norrin would be like if he were starting the 3rd grade. I wonder what chapter books he’d want to read. Or if I’d have trouble explaining that “new” math (probably). I wonder if he’d be some 3rd graders first crush. There are so many things that come to mind at the beginning of a school year. And I have to accept autism and my kid just as he is. Because he’s come a long way since his diagnosis six years ago.
Because I recognize how far Norrin’s come, I get excited about September. And I admit, I spoil him. I bought him a brand new Star Wars book bag and lunch box (with the coolest bento boxes) from Pottery Barn. It was a little expensive but I hadn’t bought him a new book bag or lunch box since Kindergarten. I love buying stylish clothes for back to school and cool sneakers. I do this because it’s the way I would have wanted to start my first day of school. Norrin may not understand how special the first day is, but I do.
On September 8th Norrin will begin another school year and I’ll take his picture to commemorate the day. And since I haven’t seen cute little signs for the ungraded kids – I made some of my own!
Feel free to print out & share.
Check out our ULTIMATE Back to School Tips for Autism Parents