Monday, June 23, 2014

Kindergarten: A Look Back

The sun's up but the house is blessedly quiet. School vacation is here...a sweet, light breeze is blowing through the kids are sleeping with visions of trips to Maine, s'mores and fireflies dancing in their heads.

But before we plunge headfirst into summer, I have to briefly look back at kindergarten for Ethan. I want to make sure I don't forget to savor the gift that was his first year spent all day at school.

If someone had told me when he entered preschool at three, into the ABA program in a self-contained autism classroom, where he'd be by kindergarten, I don't want to say I wouldn't have believed them. But I would've felt very, very grateful.

I still do. There were some worries, heading into this year. Primarily, I was concerned about Ethan having to spend an entire day doing school work with only a half-hour recess. I also wasn't sure how he'd do following directions and staying focused in class. That was one reason I argued to have him at least share a paraprofessional, heading into the year.

He surpassed my expectations. We finished the year with no para, with Ethan hopping out of the car and walking into school on his own and working independently in class. I have to say it: I underestimated him.

Then there was reading and math. Just as with Anna, the way Ethan picked up reading just blew me away. Both kids couldn't read one day, and within a few weeks were reading sentences. This always amazes me. I kind of had a hunch Ethan would do well in math but struggle with reading. He actually finished the year with higher scores in reading, although his math scores were great, too. The way that kid can calculate in his head amazes me. I figure he'll probably helping Anna in math before you know it. This already infuriates her, as math is a constant struggle for Anna (me too!). As always, I try to tell her there are areas that don't come naturally to Ethan, either.

Like creativity. How many times have I tried to tell Anna that while her brain is brimming with new ideas, with games to create and crafts to try, and stories to write and scenarios for her dolls, while Ethan "plays" it's usually copying something he's seen before? Writing brief stories this year was a distinct challenge for him. So was drawing pictures. He constantly needs to be stretched to expand his mind, slow down, and not just slap down the same ideas over and over. Thinking more abstractly is a challenge as well.

He's done with OT but his handwriting will never win any awards. I hoping in the screen-driven world we live in that's not going to matter much. He's still trying to figure out tying his shoes. It'll come, eventually.

He did "burn out" on school as he always does, in the spring. When he gets tired of working, he gets silly, and there were some behavioral issues as the year drew to a close (the boy loves to climb, but scaling the urinals in the boy's bathroom probably wasn't the best idea).

Of course the social struggles are still there. He's not going to be the kid surrounded by a gaggle of friends. Interaction is an effort, especially with those outside of his little group of closest friends. When he is motivated to talk, it's often all about him, what he likes, whatever his latest obsession is. But he's learning. I love to see his earnest attempts at making conversation (at home, we'll hear, "So daddy, how was business today?").

One of my greatest frustrations is the way other people often don't realize Ethan isn't ignoring them. It's that he spends a great deal of time in the world of his head. You have to work to pull him out. He's also slower to transition from one topic to another, so when you're trying to ask him something, and he appears to purposely not be listening, really he's just thinking about something else. He hasn't even heard your question. I see this happen with other kids all of the time. And I can see how this is really going to annoy people, the older he gets.

But here we are, 180 or so days later, and despite some minor blips, I can only feel immensely thankful for the year that just went by. I credit first his teacher, for doing her best to make learning fun in this age of Common Core and limited time for kids to run outside or to actually play. She also always knew the little things to do to help make a big difference for Ethan (like the coloring chart that showed steps to creating pictures with a lot of detail).

And I credit Ethan, for proving many of my worries wrong. I know it's our job as parents to look for potential pitfalls as we plan for the year ahead. But there's nothing more satisfying than when our kids humble us. I don't like to think that I underestimated him but rather that he rose to the occasion that was full-day kindergarten. I have no idea what first grade, or the years ahead, hold. But I hope he continues to surprise us.

I can't help but remember something silly, but maybe it's not so silly. Back when Ethan was first diagnosed, one day we were having Chinese food. When we got to the fortune cookies, I stopped. Is it weird to pray that God would speak through a fortune cookie? I prayed, let this one be a message for Ethan. When I opened it up, this is what I read: Your success will astonish everyone.

And indeed, already, he has.

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