BY: Janis Gaudelli, Champion of Truths, Unicorns & AWE-tism
There is a word we refrain from using in our home. A word that activates all pain-points. This word is a monster hiding in the closet. This word causes nerves to stand on end.
The word is school.
I don’t believe I’m the only parent who has a child that dislikes school. I get it, summer has ended, leisurely days have ceased, bedtimes are earlier, and the thought of rules and structure instills a deep case of the blues. But my kid? My boy bypasses the blues and goes straight into severe panic mode.
It’s not unusual for kids on the spectrum to have issues with changing environments. Even though Kellan has an extended school year (he goes to school from Sept to Mid-August), those three weeks off allow him to settle in and get back in touch with himself. For three amazing weeks, I get my son back – literally and figuratively. I experience him without any of the school-induced anxiety, sadness, fear, hesitation, or angst. Kellan is happy, calm and free. And therefore, so am I.
The last school year was a rough one. Who am I kidding, that’s an understatement: last year sucked big time.
Usually, it takes Kellan 2-3 months to get acclimated to school every year. But last year, he wasn’t fully acclimated ‘til May. Yes, you read that right: MAY!!! Some months he had days off every other week and it only got worse with the endless snow days. It seemed every time we returned to school, he was starting over. We got to the point where his first words from the moment he went to bed, to the time he woke up were; “No school.” I found myself dragging him out of the house by his ankles and having to pry him out of the car seat– hysterically crying– once we arrived at school. It was a mess. We were a mess. On those days, which February through May was every day, I was a sobbing, anxiety-ridden, broken-down mom. I felt like such a failure. I would walk into work with swollen eyes struggling to crack a smile for my co-workers. I had to pull myself together to actually be productive and focus on my work. I can’t tell you what I produced professionally during that period, but I know it wasn’t much because all my attention was entirely fixated on getting Kellan through this stressful, debilitating process. He was struggling, and so was I. I was so desperate that I finally took to my knees and prayed (something I don’t do often, if at all). I surrendered all of my failed solutions to the universe and called in some help.
And the universe answered. Exactly one week later, the fierce grizzly in me awoke and she was pissed. I remember it clearly because I suddenly felt this fire inside of me that had been dormant for some time. It sucks that one must get to this point to have others pay attention. I sat at my computer and wrote a very clear, assertive, and emotion-filled email to my son’s teacher, his therapists, the special ed director and our advocate.
Subject: KELLAN IS STRUGGLING, AND I NEED YOUR HELP
In this email, I shared my daily documentation of Kellan’s regression since the beginning of school. I disclosed the notebook and the email communications from his teachers/therapists that conveyed Kellan’s difficulties in school since September. I decided to share this because while they were reporting on the issues, they weren’t offering up any solutions. Throughout those eight months, I dreaded opening his school notebook or those emails, fearful of reading what he had struggled with each day. They were doing their job by communicating, but what happened to going the extra mile and finding some solutions to help a child cope? I’d had it. And that’s when they sparked my inner Bruce Banner (“I hate getting angry. People don’t like me when I am angry.”).
But, in all seriousness, I felt like not only was I failing my son, but that the school was too. Long story short, my advocate got involved and we held a meeting with Kellan’s team of experts at the school. Together, they put a structured plan in place to help Kellan get back on track. Within 2 weeks, I didn’t have to drag him out the door anymore, no tears were shed, and he (and I) had tools to cope with school.
To say that Kellan now looks forward to going to school would be simply untrue. In fact, I am not sure he ever will. However, this year we’re trying our best to prepare for the unknown.
I asked my son’s therapist for help: “How do we best prepare Kellan for back-to-school?”
She put a schedule together and introduced a social story, so he would become aware and accepting of the brand-new year ahead. But then, on Sunday, Sept 2nd he woke up and repeated those two fateful words: “No School.” My heart sank. I felt numb. I couldn’t respond to him, but to myself, I whispered, “please Universe, not again.”
I decided later that day to turn those negative, anxious thoughts inside-out to relinquish myself from the emerging funk. I sat down and wrote a wish list for the new school year, some beliefs to send him off in a positive, confident, encouraging manner.
So, my sweet boy, here is what I trust in and hope for you as you enter second grade:
BREATHE – just like you and I do every morning: a big belly breath in and a big, bad wolf breath out. When you don’t want to go into school, breathe. When your schedule gets changed unexpectedly, breathe. When a sound you don’t like hurts your ears, breathe. When you don’t have time to read your favorite book, or play on the iPad, just breathe. Keep doing this, love, until you feel better and lighter and able to get back in the game.
FIND YOUR HAPPY – Music, Reading, Animals… just a few things that we already know set your soul on fire. My hope for you this year is to add to that list. Get curious. Listen to what you’re being taught. Be aware of what you’re observing. You never know, something may tug at your heart-strings and result in a lifelong passion. Go out and pursue whatever delights your amazing seven-year-old self.
OWN WHO YOU ARE – Kind, charming, curious, funny, loving, unique, determined, peaceful, decisive, bold, zany, smart, fidgety, brave, cheerful, good-natured, quirky, hard-working, sensitive, warm-spirited. All that you are and all that you own. People are going to try to cage you in based on their evaluations of you. Don’t let them, Kell. Be You. Do you. Life welcomes originals.
STAND UP FOR YOURSELF – there will always be unkind, uninformed, unaccepting people in this world. You will get to the point where you can verbally enlighten these people to the awesomeness of being unique and different. Until then, keep shrugging them off, because most people don’t deserve your sweet, pure energy.
SEEK OUT YOUR PEOPLE – I know this a hard one for you. I know it’s hard for many children living with Autism to make and keep friends. But you will find them and when you do, you’ll know, because they’ll feel like home. Your people might just be a person, Kell, and that’s ok. All you need is one true friend to navigate life with. Just ask Bert & Ernie.
PROVE THEM WRONG – Since you were a baby, ‘experts’ have said you wouldn’t be able to do this, or that. You didn’t just ignore those naysayers, you crushed those doubts and showed them exactly what Kellan Gaudelli is capable of: greatness. You can achieve anything. I am witness to it every year of your gorgeous life.
Lastly, my wish for all parents out there: please instruct your kids to be compassionate and curious. Teach them that different is not less than, that different is wonderful and interesting. Encourage them to embrace flaws & accept quirks. Breed shepherds who will invite the kids who rock to the beat of their own drum to their lunch tables and birthday parties. Show them that kindness is the fiercest superpower one can possess. Thank you.
Here’s to a wonderful school year!
Janis Gaudelli is The Founder of The Daily Feels. She started this passion project to reveal the magic behind storytelling, and how truth-based narratives bring people together in the most heart-warming of ways. Fascinated by soul, depth, intellect, raw truths and rebellion with a cause. Often captivated by the awe of nature: star gazing, moon manifesting, sunset chasing, waves crashing, crickets singing. Fiercely curious about the inner-workings of the human psyche… she professionally studies human behavior for a living. Forever proud and grateful for being a mom to the force that fuels her life: her 7-year-old son, and greatest professor, Kellan.