“You need to come to the school and pick him up,” said the voice of my son’s special education teacher on the phone.
We’d been riding a positive wave of good news as far as Michael had been concerned. His last conference had brought me to tears; he was working on grade level, in the mainstream classroom. He was doing well socially, making friends. There were days when life wasn’t defined by his autism; we’d traveled to Florida by air last month without asking for the special treatment we used to to avoid lines and waits and things that my son didn’t used to be able to handle. But now, now Michael gave us hope that someday, things would be just like everyone else for him.
But all the good didn’t come without a price. Michael was doing well in school because he had a team of teachers pushing him this year; he didn’t like to be pushed. I’d been asked just now to come and pick him up from school because he was too agitated to get on the bus, having spent most of the day in the school office after a tantrum in his classroom.
I walked into the school office five minutes later to find Michael underneath the principal’s desk. I wanted to cry.
“It’s OK, he’s fine under there,” she reassured. “Let’s talk about what happened today. Michael was upset about the difficulty of his reading lesson, and so during class, he decided it was time for him to go home.”
I clasped my hands together, pressing them firmly in order to avoid the screaming I really wanted to do.
“He gathered up all of his things, and put on his backpack and coat, and tried to climb out the window.”
“But he couldn’t get past the screen, so then he bolted down the hallway and out the front door. Don’t worry, we were able to get one of the male teachers to stop him just five steps outside the door, but he’s getting too heavy now for most of the women teachers to handle that.”
“So he told us when we finally got to the office that there would be no consequences today, that he was just done with school and not coming back here ever again. He kicked his aide and tripped her on the way down to the office,” the principal added.
Red. I was seeing red and black spots in front of my eyes.
“He finally calmed down about an hour later, and we have been able to get him to do some work down here. I’ve told him that he needs to come straight to the office tomorrow, and when he’s calm enough, he can go to the regular classroom. It’s a shame; the kids really feel badly for him, know he’s having a hard time, and miss him when he’s not in class, so hopefully tomorrow he can pull it together and have a better day.”
I looked at my son, who had come out from under the table upon seeing me and hearing that his day was being described in detail. He looked sad, and embarrassed, but also a bit angry too still. “Sorry,” he said in a melancholy voice with downcast eyes.
I’d forgotten that mixture of fear, helplessness, anger, sorrow all stirred with a hint of shame and insecurity that came with my son’s disorder. We’d gotten to the place where we did the therapies without even thinking about them, put the proper program in place at school, and thought we were reaping the benefits. I felt it all crumbling and crashing down around me as I stood there, surrounded by Michael’s team, all of them apologetic and optimistic for him. I needed to be his mother in that moment, one of the perfect ones you see on TV who knew just how to handle this type of thing. But instead I felt like a child myself, wanting to yell and scream and have a different life, a normal life where you didn’t have to get called into school because your child couldn’t handle getting on the bus.
“Thank you all,” I said to the group assembled, trying to put on the mask, all the while with tears pricking the corners of my eyes. “We’ll have a long talk about this tonight and come up with a plan going forward. Now let’s get our things, Michael, and get home.”
Two steps forward, three steps back.