BY DONNA DUARTE-LADD
I’m Sending My Autistic Son to School: Here Is Why
Since coronavirus entered the hemisphere, I have been walking a tight rope when it comes to my child’s special needs. The first two months of the COVID shutdown, my four-year-old son regressed in severe extremities. Within weeks of quarantine, he ended up in the hospital, was diagnosed with a compulsive disorder, and I was labeled by the very person I chose to advocate for him a failure as a mother (this is another story, and this person has since been replaced). Never mind, he is on the ASD spectrum, and the doctors (who were saints) explained how his compulsion led us to the hospital. It was on me, not my husband, who also parents our children. The mother is the one who is expected to be the ‘super’ parent. I have now labeled this time as one of the roughest periods of my life. And I’m not alone. Stat news recently shared that “Years ago, a University of Wisconsin-Madison study showed that autism mothers experience levels of stress comparable to those of combat soldiers — and that’s without a global pandemic.” Yikes.
My child tends to be in his bubble, happily, but as social interaction is necessary for all children’s growth, it is especially crucial for children with Autism. After the hospital stay, quarantine, and negative COVID tests, my son went to daycare during the school break in the hope that socialization would help with his developmental regression. He exhausted the staff. I was politely told not to return; the daycare workers were unable to ‘handle’ him. Many parents with special needs kids hear these words more often then we’d prefer. The truth is he is not a lot to handle; the daycare workers were not equipped or educated in special needs to understand a child with autism. I have learned not to take it personally. Most children have to find the right school fit, and during a pandemic, watching a child with special needs is pretty extra.
When it comes to kids with special needs, it takes a team of experts to teach the child. A strong squad sees his/her strengths and builds on them to make this beautiful human’s life, one of value.
We all know as parents that having a teacher that ‘gets’ our kid means we are going to have a great school year. However, our child health trumps even a good school experience in the time of COVID. We’ve all have had to decide how to proceed with our children’s education here in New York. When it comes to returning to school and sending my son out in COVID, there are no pods or yurts where my son can safely learn. After speaking to my son’s IEP coordinator and teachers regarding going back to school — the decision was as an overwhelming yes for this is the appropriate route for us to take. Fortunately, my son is in a small class that will be even smaller this year. I do not foresee any crowded hallways such as the viral tweet that Georgia student Hannah Anderson shared. Not cool, North Paulding High School!
So in a few weeks, most of our kids will either be remote or blended learning. And the gist of it all is I have no judgment on how a parent decides their child’s educated path this school year. What I do know is when you or I see parents sending their kids to school in the next few weeks, or heading to their ‘pod’ know we are all genuinely doing the best we can. This is not ideal for anyone; let’s work on being there for each other, judgment aside.
This story first appeared on our sister publication newyorkfamily.com.