Kindergarten Rules

A mom of a child with mild autism sends him off to kindergarten.


I lurch to the left as I try to reestablish my balance, almost bowled over by my youngest son as he wraps his body around my lower torso. Zach and I are on line to gain entrance to his new school for orientation day, and although we visited both of his teachers and their classrooms in the spring, I can tell he’s experiencing a high level of anxiety at the moment.

I reach down and gently peel him off of me while grabbing his hand to comfort him, and tell him in a few minutes we’ll be inside. I remind him he’s already met his teachers and most of the other children haven’t, and he smiles at this opportunity to be “first”, which is always so important to him. His death grip on me relaxes a bit, and I see a small smile flash across his face at this knowledge, and know I said the right thing.

My last child will be attending kindergarten tomorrow.

A few minutes later we are allowed inside, and we promptly cycle through the day’s activities. We begin our adventure in the classroom where he’ll hopefully be mainstreaming first thing every morning, and I can tell he’s completely overwhelmed by the experience from his absolute silence. He’ll be with nineteen other kids (which is a huge class size for him), one regular education teacher, and one special educator.

Both teachers are exceedingly warm and welcoming to him, and after a brief spiel about his upcoming year we are dismissed to the general assembly. I look down at Zach in his small chair which I know he will soon outgrow. I see my son being uncharacteristically still, taking everything in very seriously, with occasional glances across the room at the one child he knows from pre-school.

In both the regular ed class and the self-contained he has a friend, and she’s wonderful. For that, this mother is eternally grateful.

Eventually we make it through the almost hour-long assembly throughout which Zach paid vigilant attention, and we conclude our visit by dropping by his self-contained classroom, where he will go every day after his mainstream experience. Once again, his teacher and aide put him at ease and engage him immediately, and soon he is immersed in an art project, glancing now and then at the students around him, then returning to the task at hand. Throughout the morning he plays nicely with the other students, and cleans up when asked without protest (!). Each time I prompt him to say thank-you to one of his excellent educators he does so willingly, and grants them one of his rare bear hugs which his mother so covets.

He’s nervous, and a bit shy around the other kids. But I can tell he’s excited too, and with Zach, that’s more than half the battle.

I give both teachers a small “dossier” on Zach, things I think will help him acclimate, details I would have wanted to know about a student when I was a teacher. It’s still strange for me sometimes to be on the parent side of the table, but this position also comes with invaluable insight, and I remain grateful for my educational experiences as they’ve helped me to be a better parent.

Most of the information I’ve shared is practical. Zach is on a special diet. His impulsivity and ability to contain his emotional responses to situations will be his biggest challenges. I also try to convey in words how loving he is, how his first instincts in any social situation are to befriend someone, and to help whenever he can. These facts are just the bare bones of what makes my boy special.

I know I could never completely explain how brave he is, how his willingness to try new experiences this summer, mostly without incident, have amazed me. He soared at his new camp, so much so that the instructors have given me the green light to try sending him next year without a shadow. He conquered his fear of the ocean this summer with his boogie board, braving bigger and bigger waves as the season waned. He even briefly tried a vegetable, which did not lead to a repeat experience, but there’s hope.

Truly, there’s just so much hope.

Eventually the day concludes, and I lead my small-but-growing-up son back out to the parking lot, his hand clasped firmly in mine. He tries to remove it but I insist as cars start to pass us by, and he relents. I know this is only the beginning of the many “pulling-aways” we’ll experience, and I’m grateful for the moments we still have, for the fact he told me the night before that he was scared, that he can articulate his feelings with me. He seems at once so old and so young to me, and I am certain I will experience this feeling many times in the years to come. At this moment I’ve never been more proud of him.

My last child is going to kindergarten.

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