Going through the pile of paperwork that came home in Charlie's backpack this week, I came upon a sheet about the third-grade fundraiser, a cookbook whose proceeds will be donated to a non-profit that trains guide dogs for the visually impaired. This is the third-graders' Character Education project.
With Charlie engrossed in a puzzle of a Lego police station, several thoughts came into my head.
Third graders: Approximately Charlie's grade if he were in a grade in school.
A cookbook of the students' favorite recipes: Would there be any gluten-free casein-free ones?
A seeing eye dog: I have heard more and more of autistic children with therapy or service dogs (Charlie, who still has dog-fear, is not a likely candidate). Charlie's optometrist used to have a therapy dog in her office, right amid the special chairs and the eye-checking machines. Her name was Melody and Charlie was always very interested in her: He used to try to run in to see her and poke her fur soon as we entered the office.
Character Education: In our old school district, I had asked the director and our case manager about including some discussion about autism along with the "diversity training" that the students received. This never happened and perhaps Charlie's new school already has something in place. I must find out.
I must do something-----if Charlie is going to be a part of his school community, we---our little family---has to make its efforts to participate and be visible. The Book Fair is coming up; there was a Pizza Night last week but we were at soccer with the stars last Friday (and Charlie is allergic to pizza). Community is a two-way street: If I wish for Charlie to be accepted and into integrated into the school and town community as much as he is able, we have to make the effort for him to get out into it.
It is easier said than done. Charlie was in a private autism school from December 2005-June 2006; the school was very small and there were no PTA events to
worry about bring him to. In his old school, I had been a PTA officer, written the newsletter, and---most of all---brought Charlie to every event I could for him to be with other children in social settings. For a year, everyone knew who Charlie was and then the next year, it became too hard to go except for a few harried minutes and then, just over a year ago, we took Charlie out of his old public school classroom. His private school was housed inside a much larger school for non-autistic students, in a good-sized building. For seven months, the only focus was Charlie and his education, at teaching Charlie and not just managing his behaviors.
Now Charlie is back in a public school. His classroom is housed in a lovely old school building and while he spends his school day with his other classmates, he is in an elementary school with a good-sized population of non-autistic children, children who I hope he will move through his school years with, who will get used to seeing him with his shuffling step and that serious look from the corners of his big brown eyes. Who will maybe see him walking in with an aide into a classroom, to sit for only part of the class. Who will see him around our town pumping his legs to go up a hill on his bike. Who will see him waiting in line for the little yellow school bus. Who will say "that's Charlie."
If I want Charlie to be part of the school community, we have to make our efforts too. In Autismland, give means take.
I filled out forms and looked for the chequebook. Charlie was dumping the puzzle pieces back into the box: "Puzzle," with a straight stare at me. "Puzzoh!"
"Sure, do you want to do the dinosaur one?" I pulled it out from under my bed.
"Dinosawwr," said Charlie. He handed me the Lego puzzle, back in its box. "Giff, Mommy." Charlie did this puzzle quickly too and was just going to jump (literally) into bed when, on me noting that "Dad's coming home soon," he ran to look through the front door glass and to listen at the door leading to the garage. "He's coming home late," I added. Charlie paused, face very serious and dove (I also mean that literally) into the bed, burrowing his face in the valley between some pillows.
Any community could use a character like Charlie, if you ask me.