If you’ve been here at all before, you know my son Jack is severely autistic. He’ll be 10 in less than two weeks and has very minimal speech, he’s not potty trained, has self-injurious behaviors — basically, the works. We live in Pennsylvania, but we moved here from Colorado after living through a terrible nightmare. Jack hasn’t had a school to go to since May 2012, but FINALLY, today he’s going to school!
Now technically, he did have a school to go to. Our school district there “offered” a school that was unsafe — the playground was 86 feet from the parking lot and it was unfenced. Jack is silent and likes to elope. Give him the slightest window and he’ll dash without fear of consequence. With less than a two-second distraction by whomever is supervising him, he would have a big enough head start that it would be impossible for that person to catch him before he reached the parking lot if that was the direction he was headed.
Their safety plan was, “Don’t worry, nothing will happen.” But those same people probably make sure their kids wear seat belts. Because accidents DO happen. I heard several reports of autistic kids eloping and dying this summer. I’m not going to let Jack be one of them.
He has a handicap parking placard because doctors know he’s a danger to himself and he should not spend extended time in parking lots. The school right down the street from our house was safe with a fenced-in playground, but the principal wouldn’t allow him back in. We suspected, based on numerous meetings and comments, that it was because the special ed teacher didn’t want to put forth the effort to legitimately teach Jack. The official reason the principal refused to allow us to bring Jack to her school is because she said that even though we repeatedly asked to bring him there, she said we didn’t want to bring him there. I know, doesn’t make sense.
They knew we wouldn’t bring him to the unsafe school, so by keeping him assigned there, nobody in the district had to deal with him. In their system, where it’s painfully obvious that the schools are there for the teachers to teach as long as the students don’t get in the way, he was just a pain in their ass. We thought about going to court, but “winning” would have been more expensive than relocation. And what was the prize? A teacher who didn’t want to teach my kid because he’s challenging?
So we did some research and relocated to Pennsylvania. I found a job immediately and moved here four months ahead of my wife and kids. The other two finished up the school year and then all four of them spent seven weeks in California while I looked for a house out here.
Because we made the decision to put Jack’s safety ahead of his education, he’s regressed quite a bit over the past 15+ months. He’s developed serious separation issues with my wife, because they’ve basically been glued to each other’s hip since May 2012. This has really wrecked him, which is a shame, because autism had already done a pretty bad number on him. It’s done a number on my wife, too. She’s had a miserable non-existence for more than a year now.
But we’ve been counting down the days to September 3 since March and finally it’s here. Finally, Jack and Tiff are going to get their lives back on track. It’s more important that Jack gets rolling again, because he’s a disabled child and time is ticking and this is a critical time period that will determine the quality of his adult life. However, I’m also excited that my wife is on the verge of finding happiness again. We’ve made sacrifices as parents because that’s what parents do, but we’re optimistic that there will come a time that we don’t have to sacrifice our happiness. So far, parenthood has been an experience where we scratch our heads and think, “people actually enjoy this?” You do what you have to do, though. You fight for your kids and you protect them.
So today, Jack goes back to school. We’ve met his teacher (and know plenty about her experience with children with similar levels of autism) and they clicked right away. He’s spent time inside the school and on the playground and seems very comfortable. He’s about to get his life back. Tiff is about to get her life back. My family is about to get back into a productive routine, which is something we haven’t had for a long, long time.
I know a lot of you have followed along as we’ve gone through nothing but miserable experiences for the better part of a year. I know a lot of you have been praying for us and rooting for us and hoping we turn the corner. Well, the day we’ve been looking forward to is today. Finally. I’ll try to keep you posted with more good news!
Have a great Tuesday, y’all. I’m pretty sure I will!