First Day of School

back-to-schoolIt’s August and moms across the country are posting smiling photos of their children going back to school. Some post “before”and “after” shots: their child at the start of kindergarten, and now, at the start of middle school, high school, or even college. Some post photos of kids holding hands as they prepare to walk to school. Others post mother-daughter and mother-son shots.

I look at these photos and tangled emotions bloom in my chest. I want to be like those moms. I want to take those kinds of photos. But somehow I can’t bring myself to do it. I can’t take the photo. I tell myself it’s because I’m so freaking busy, but that’s not the real reason—even though it’s the excuse I will give if you ask.

For me as well as for Katie, the first day of school is not a fun day. It’s rough. It’s a day full of transition and tears. It’s a day of sensory overload and exhaustion. It’s gotten better over the years, but getting Katie dressed and out of the house (forget eating breakfast) after a month-long break from school is all I can handle. I’m in no mood for photos and neither is she.

For most moms and their children, the first day of school is a record of change, an indication of progress. When your child has autism and is in a special day class, he or she has summer school and the same teacher three years in a row, in the same classroom, with the same kids. The first day isn’t about change or even progress. It’s simply more of the same.

Young Student Moving Toward GraduationI look at the smiling photos and sadness clouds my heart. I wanted my daughter to have that kind of life—a nice, normal existence. I wanted that for myself too. We didn’t end up with that kind of life. Most days I’m okay with this state of affairs, even see it as something of a blessing in disguise. But on the first day of school all I can think about is how Katie isn’t reading, how she isn’t doing math. I look at the smiling photos and feel panic and regret. I might even feel a hint of anger.

It’s not that I don’t want the child in the photo to grow, change, and succeed at school. I simply want mine to succeed as well.

Until next time,
Cynthia Patton

About Cynthia J. Patton

Writer, Editor, Advocate, Speaker, Special Needs Attorney, and Autism Mom. Also the Founder and Chairperson of Autism A to Z, a nonprofit providing resources and solutions for life on the spectrum.
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