Back to school is an exciting time for most families. Picking out a new backpack and lunch box, shopping for new clothes, and organizing the bags and bags of school supplies. With 4 kids, back to school not only means the end of summer vacation, but the beginning of a frenetic schedule of soccer, cheerleading, Boy Scouts, dance, band…I’m tired just thinking about it!
One of the most exciting events of back to school is Meet the Teacher Day. With our 2 youngest still in elementary school, we are introduced to the teacher who our children will spend their days with. They find their desk and tour the classroom that’s just a little bit more mature than the year prior. Posters of Presidents, the Solar System, and spelling words adorn the walls. Our daughter’s teacher tapes a colorful sign with her name to her desk and leaves a cute bag of gummy bears tied with a bow. With a warm welcome like that, any child would be excited about starting school again.
Our son with autism on the other hand is now in his 5th disappointing year. The classrooms are always white and sterile. No desk with his name and a treat on it. In fact, one year he didn’t even have a desk for the first month because the classroom was 1 desk short. So for the first month he sat in a chair in the back of the classroom like an outcast. A simple phone call and a desk miraculously appeared.
Right now I would gladly give up a desk if only he had a teacher. For the fourth time in five years our son’s teacher has quit shortly into the school year. This year’s record; less than 1 month. And because ESE teachers don’t grow on trees, we can anticipate 3-5 months of substitute teachers while they search for a replacement, and then (I assume) settle for anyone willing to take this task. These are not ESE substitutes. Pool subs from the school. For children whose days are dependent on routine and stability, this group of 10 high functioning boys has had only 1 year with a consistent, reliable teacher. They are on their 9th teacher in 5 years.
I think of the soap opera my mother used to watch when I was little. The man narrating begins the program “Like sands through the hour-glass, so are the days of our lives.” Time is slipping away and this is precious, crucial time, to give our young children a good chance of catching up to their peers. This is the time to set them up for a future of some sort of independence.
So what can we as parents do to support our son?
We have several choices: home school, get a transfer to another school which includes uprooting our daughter as well, finding a private school, or wait it out…AGAIN. I realize it takes a special kind of person to be an ESE teacher. But right now I am heartbroken for my son. He has no idea how much he is missing. Not just posters on the wall and his name on a desk, but the opportunity to learn and grow. In this age of No Child Left Behind, here sits a group of children on the spectrum who have been “left behind.” And with every day that passes and he doesn’t have a stable learning environment, this precious time lost is like sands through the hour glass.