It’s official. My twelve year old daughter will be leaving the special education program in which she has participated since the age of THREE. I signed the amended IEP (Individual Education Plan) this morning. The reason she’s going to a new school is that those who have worked with her for years believe she no longer needs the intensive services their program provides anymore. This is good news, GREAT news. We are SO SO proud of her! But it’s also a bittersweet moment – even though it’s been in the works for a few months now the “official-ness” of it has me feeling nervous and nostalgic.
My daughter entered this program geared towards children with autism two weeks after her third birthday. The day she walked in that building, into the hands of those strangers, out of my sight and my protective arms, I cried me a river. Not the typical tears of a mom seeing her child off to school and letting go and grieving the baby growing up – I cried because I was AFRAID and anxious. I was afraid and anxious because she hardly spoke a word. I didn’t know the people she would be with, so I didn’t trust them. I was afraid someone would hurt her and she wouldn’t be able to tell me.
Nine and a half years later, I’m anxious again, but the fear isn’t quite as great. My daughter who hardly spoke at three won’t keep quiet at 12 1/2! While her speech isn’t as smooth as it could be (she still gets speech therapy), she can clearly convey what she wants, what she needs, and if she’s having a problem. My husband and I got to choose from three different schools, and I know we’ve picked the one that will best meet her needs.
But leaving this program is like pushing the baby bird out of the nest. These people who I so distrusted at the start have become like extended family. They have celebrated our failures, held my hand as I cried in frustration, came to our home to help us coordinate how we would handle a newborn (my son) when my daughter was still so “wild.” When things at home were particularly overwhelming, a few of them offered to spend personal time with her after school, so I could have some time alone with my other two without the chaos of their sister.
When the idea of her leaving the program came up at her IEP meeting in February, the first thing I did when the meeting was over was call the program’s director. “I’m nervous, talk me down!” I said to her. She replied, “We love her, and we don’t want her to leave us, but we don’t think she needs us anymore. We can’t hold her back.” We can’t hold her back. Amen.
But new is hard. She’ll have a lot of transitions and adjustments to make – new building, new teachers, new classmates, new schedule, new classroom rules, and having a locker for the first time. Her teacher and behaviorist firmly believe she is up to the challenges of the new school. They, along with her case manager, have assured me that she will have extra help for how ever long it takes to get used to things. And there are certain things they won’t wait until September. During her extended school year (ESY) in July they will start working with her on some of the transitions. We all want to make sure the change is as painless and anxiety-free as possible.
But new is hard. I reflect back on how incredibly far she has come, and I am so very grateful for all the people who have worked with her – from Early Intervention (EI) when she was just one year old, to the program she’s been in from three until now – teachers, aides, speech therapists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, behaviorists and case managers. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, THEY ARE ANGELS.
New is hard, because it means saying goodbye to all those angels, and somehow believing there is room in our hearts for all the new people who will become a part of our lives – trusting, with only the past as proof, that they too will become as instrumental to her success and happiness as those who have come before.