The Lasts…

#BigBrother is a senior this year, so since August 17, I’ve been marking the #FirstOfTheLasts. Last First Day Of High School, Last Picture Day (don’t get me started on the cap and gown or tuxedo photos), #FirstAndLast football game and homecoming dance. Last This, Last That.

Yesterday, we had his last ARD (Texas speak for IEP meeting). LAST IEP meeting. Last one. Before I can fully visit this, I have to rewind to kindergarten, no birth, where I begin asking, “Is this ‘normal?” Even the day he was born, I thought, “This baby isn’t like other babies I’ve known.” I asked at every annual visit about things we noticed. He was in Early Childhood Intervention due to food aversions that we’d chalked up to trauma related to multiple oral surgeries. He moved to outside Occupational Therapy for Sensory Integration Disorder. In preschool, I’d ask how he was. “He’s so smart! Yes, he plays with his peers.” Like so many families, we created structures and systems to help him navigate life. In kinder I noticed those systems beginning to not be enough. Finally, after YEARS of asking doctors, in first grade, I finally requested evaluation from the school.

Our wonderful, amazing, brilliant LSSP (who is still one of my all time favorite humans) told us what we’d known for six and a half years. Big is autistic.

I remember going to his first ARD like it was yesterday. My husband and I both attended. We walked in to a cramped conference room full of waiting women . There was a box of tissues in the center. I sat between the LSSP and my husband. The meeting began. We heard A LOT about how Big struggled. But, we also heard about his his vocabulary knowledge was in the 99.9th percentile, that he was reading at college level, that they saw him and appreciated him. The time came to discuss enrollment in special education.

I come from a long line of teachers. I am one now-although, I wasn’t at the time. I know about special education. My summers were spent riding the special education bus. But, I suddenly realized what that box of Kleenex was for. It doesn’t matter in that moment that you know special education isn’t what it used to be-kids aren’t in the basement, never seeing their typical peers. It didn’t matter. I was crying for me. I was crying for him and the struggles I was confirming he would continue to have. Mostly, I was crying because he would have the supports he would need to navigate school.

I met some of my dearest friends that year. One being Big’s case manager. She introduced me to others who knew. Others who got it. Others who I would grow to depend on in those early years like oxygen. We have had so many amazing supports throughout his twelve years with an IEP, but…

There were years. There were YEARS where not one teacher had something positive to say about my kid. I knew that was on them because my kid is rad, but it hurt. And I cried at every single one. There was one year that a writing teacher either called, emailed, or text nearly everyday with something Big could not/would not do. There were YEARS that I didn’t know if I was going to pull him from public education. This devastated me as a BELIEVER in public education.

This is why I became a special education teacher. I wanted to be the person that gets to say the GOOD. To tell parents we see their children. We see them.

Yesterday, was the meeting of my dreams. Big’s creative writing teacher shared that he is “one of the most prepared for college students” he’s ever seen. “His grammar and mechanics are precise, he has a voice in his writing, and has a unique way of viewing the world that is exceptional.” (Okay, I put this in quotes, but I’m slightly paraphrasing.)

This kid. Who in fourth grade refused to write, hating writing, has a VOICE! I cried at this IEP meeting too. I’m thankful for this particular last.

Big’s first photo.