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Autismland 101 (#161)

After all the paperwork, the meetings, the evaluations, the observations, the reports, the school visits, the phone calls, the research, the new programs, the old programs, the doctor's visits, the medication, the letters, the blind hope, the big fear, the anger and the autism ; after the past several months; after the past few weeks; after it all, Charlie (as his teacher wrote) showed his smile throughout the whole day at his new school. After all the data and records and writing (including what you're reading right here), the best spokesperson for Who Charlie Is was Charlie, himself.
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Charlie showed that he knows his letters, numbers, colors, shapes and a whole lot more words. He showed that he knew it was afternoon and he was ready to go--he called out "backpack"--and that he could exhibit "protest behavior" and then be peaceful. He showed that he was glad to be back in school.

It is a huge thing for any child on any spectrum to go to a new school after almost 2 1/2 years at the same one. It could be cosmic for a kid like Charlie to be handed off to a new teacher whom he had met once before for a half-hour, to be in a strange new (and big) building, to ride in a mini-van bus for at least an hour each way. And, to board a mini-van bus and get seat-belted in beside an older woman in a copper-colored sari and a scarf over her head, while the trainer and another older woman spoke in an Asian language that I would love to learn, but I'm just barely keeping my head up in Autismland 101 and in learning the language of Charlie.

The bus driver was uncertain of the route and I got in the black car and drove before him, constantly glancing in my rear-and-side view mirrors to see if the van was behind me (it wasn't always) and trying not to wonder, what is Charlie thinking? (He fell asleep until we got to the school.) Jim and I spent the rest of the day tag-teaming each other in talking to the bus company personnel about the aide, training, and--most of all--directions. The bus driver left the school almost a half-hour late after a (major) miscommunication and pulled up in front of our house at 4.20pm (Charlie's school day ends at 2.30pm), after I had called him and directed him right and left and stop and go around local streets. Charlie hopped out of the van smiling, ran into the house, and hugged my mom, snacked and went up the stairs for a therapy session.

"What a trooper," said Jim from his office in the Bronx, breathing the sigh of one collapsing in a chair.

"Suit on!" Charlie called after dinner and "Mommy gink cert!" as he showered after an hour swimming in the pool. "Mom's pink shirt is at home," I said. "Mommy cert, give," Charlie smiled with his great wet eyes--the peaceful look, open and soft and young, I remember suffusing his face as a baby.

This look was the best evidence for me that Charlie had had a good day and that his (our) educational odyssey had reached some turning point. That the jagged mounds of paperwork stacked every which way on my desk will not simply be fodder for a recycle bin but all translate into getting Charlie what he needs. I do know that something got lost along the way--that there were miscommunications, and misunderstandings, mishandlings--and Jim and I both know the times over the past months when we thought we were close to losing Charlie to the part of autism that is heartbreak--to something far worse than wondering where that bus with your child on it is. (We have decided, I am driving Charlie to school.)

As for what we've gained: A passing grade in the course titled Autismland 101. We have had to retake it several times over these past six years and we always fear we'll flunk the tests in Charlie-speak.

I suspect we only pass them because our brown-eyed boy of a teacher has a big heart .

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