When Thing 1 started Kindergarten we were given the opportunity to send him to a fantastic school which specializes in teaching kids on the autism spectrum and teaching kids who just learn differently. That is how we have always explained things to the boys. We have always said that Thing 1 learns differently so that is why the boys were in two different schools. That is why there have been therapy appointments and speech therapy for Thing 1 and not for Thing 2. It’s always been our way of life and the boys have just accepted it. Over the last couple of years we have seen a lot of changes in Thing 2 that caused us concern. Last year, Thing 2 also ended up being diagnosed, at 8 years old, as being on the spectrum. We were starting to see changes in him and, although he presented differently, we recognized the signs.
The boys’ school has been wonderful. Thing 1 started out in preschool at the same private school that Thing 2 attended through first grade and, even though we loved that school too, Thing 1 just learns differently and needed a different placement. He needed to be taught differently and in a way that he could understand and learn. In Kindergarten we started him at his current school and he loves it. This year, Thing 2 also began school there in the second grade.
There are two teachers/intervention specialists per grade, speech therapy a few times a week at the school, 12-15 students per class, social skills learning and an environment for kids who just need to learn things a little bit differently. We are also blessed to have had a school like that near us. We wanted to send our children to Catholic school and this school is also a Catholic school so we are doubly blessed! Regardless of their individual learning styles, both of our boys are still able to attend Catholic school for their educations.
Now, when I say that the school is near us, that is a relative term. Near us is actually 25-40 minutes away, depending on the traffic and time of day. It is so worth the ride though because of the benefits provided by the school. I am able to drive both boys to school and pick them both up. So it all works out and we are all happy…most of the time.
I have to admit that sometimes it is hard. Sometimes, I think how easy it would be if they went to the local Catholic School which is only seven minutes from our house. I would be back home within 15 minutes of leaving instead of my normal one hour and 20 minutes round trip in the car each morning and each afternoon. When I start to feel sad or frustrated about things like that, I have to sit back and take a fresh look at our life. Our life is good. I love our boys! We CAN live with life on the spectrum. Our boys are each special in their own ways.
Thing 1 loves to build, design and be creative. He will spend hours designing and building Legos, mostly for his brother. Thing 2 loves to play with his plastic animal figures and action heroes. He loves to play with his Legos. He will sit for hours and just play. Thing 1 loves to build the Legos and Thing 2 loves to play with the finished Legos so they make the perfect team! I love to just sit and watch them play. When Thing 1 is working on a project his mind works in the most awesome ways. I love to see what he designs and builds. Some of the technical questions that he will ask are above me and sometimes I end up having to use Google to find an answer for him or we have to wait and ask Daddy when he gets home from work. He is so insightful and sensitive. Thing 2 is very sensitive and is always concerned about the feelings of others. He loves to read and it’s amazing to see how fast he can read a book he is especially enjoying. Yes, we have some autistic meltdowns and we have quirks in our life because of living life on the spectrum but yet their autism has given them so many gifts and talents and it has shaped them into who they are today and who they will become. It is up to us to cultivate those gifts and to help them grow. While it can definitely be frustrating at times, the rewards are so great!
One day, a few years ago, I was up at our City’s civic center and I ran into a family friend who worked there at the time. She also had a special needs son so we talked about our children and special needs for awhile. Later that week she sent me a card with this wonderful story inside of it, Welcome To Holland by Emily Perl Kingsley, and it really does help to put things into perspective. It also helps to explain to others what it is like to raise a child with special needs.
WELCOME TO HOLLAND
by Emily Perl Kingsley
“I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability – to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It’s like this…
“When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to Italy. You buy a bunch of guidebooks and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum, the Michelangelo David, the gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting.
“After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, ‘Welcome to Holland.’
“‘Holland?’ you say. ‘What do you mean, Holland? I signed up for Italy. I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.’
“The important thing is that they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It’s just a different place.
“So you must go out and buy new guidebooks. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.
“It’s just a different place. It’s slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around, and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills, Holland has tulips, Holland even has Rembrandts.
“But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy, and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say, ‘Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.’
“The pain of that will never, ever, ever go away, because the loss of that dream is a very significant loss.
“But if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things about Holland.”
That’s where I am now. I am learning to appreciate all of the good things about Holland and to let go of Italy. Our family is in Holland now and in Holland we shall stay! Maybe I should go out today and buy some tulips for our home to remind us all of the beauty that Holland has brought into our lives.