This week our daughter F. starts pre-school. It’s more like taste-of-pre-school: a two-hour block of time on Friday mornings. It’s in the same school where H. and I took early childhood classes together six years ago. I stopped by there recently to drop off some paperwork and had a bit of a flashback to what I think of as The Early Years: that time frame when we knew something was amiss with H.’s development but not what that something was.
That was a very rough time. In the wake of questions about H.’s development, I quit my job to be home with him. We moved to a new town where I knew no one. I enrolled us in the local early childhood classes but tried (in vain) to prevent the transfer of records from old school district to new. I was still desperately holding onto the idea that there was really nothing wrong, that H. was just a little…different. I hoped the new school people would look at him and see what I saw, and not what the previous school people had seen. (Though they had ruled out autism at that time, they obviously saw the situation as more dire than we did.)
I remember the phone call from an administrator a few weeks into the semester. The toddler teacher had asked that H. be withdrawn from class. He wasn’t keeping up. It wasn’t the right place for him. I had observed him with the other tots and I had to agree. While his classmates were learning to gather around the teacher, to follow simple games and songs, H. was off to the side, doing his own thing. He seemed oblivious to his surroundings, interested only in the steady turn of the ceiling fan or the sparkle of dust motes caught in the sun’s golden beams.
So I understood the request that H. cease attending. I knew it wasn’t working. But what the administrator said next surprised me.
“And you won’t want to continue in the parent group.”
“Oh, I really like that group. If I could still go, maybe I could find care for H…”
“Well…I doubt they’re going to be covering the same issues that you’ll be dealing with. I don’t think you’ll be able to relate.”
I got off the phone and bawled. She’d said it kindly, with a tone that I knew was intended to let me down gently.
It didn’t work.
It was the first time I’d considered not just H.’s difference but my own. It was like I’d been told I wasn’t a “regular” parent, just like H. wasn’t a “regular” child. We’d both been cast out of the circle.
Soon after, H. was enrolled in a special ed class for toddlers just down the hall. It was a great program. But, unlike the “typical” class, there was no parenting piece.
As I left that same school the other day, I recalled that sense of sadness and isolation – a rare enough feeling for me now, but an almost constant for me those years ago. Coming up the stairs toward me was M.B., one of H.’s teachers, who has been on his team from the very beginning.
“Becca! How’s H.?” she cried, and her beaming face was just what I needed to see in that dark moment, just as her insight and dedication is exactly what we have all needed since his diagnosis.