As you know, we have been going through the painstaking process of trying to find K a new school, after the district agreed to place her privately. Getting them to agree to that was a huge victory, yes, but I didn't realize just how difficult it would be to actually pick a school. I realized just yesterday, though, that the only reason it was hard was because of my own expectations, and failure to accept what was right for my child.
The first step in this process is finding K a 45 day placement. This is a school that will evaluate her needs, and at the end of the 45 days they will tell us what kind of permanent placement is appropriate. However, it could also end up that she just stays at this intial school, and so we wanted to make sure wherever we sent her, we'd be willing to send her long-term, as well.
There were lots of things my husband and I thought we wanted for her. A school with an emphasis on academics, because we didn't want her to fall even more behind. A school with other girls her age (this one we knew was a reach, but a person can dream). A school that was pretty much exactly like the public school, just with a more understanding staff, who actually got autism, and anxiety, and learning disabilities.
We were afraid of her being treated with kid gloves. How would she ever be successful in life if she wasn't pushed? If we didn't set the bar high? Sure, we wanted her in a setting that would ease her anxiety, but we failed to realize that in order for that to happen, things would really have to change. We were 100% ready to put her in a school that we worried would bring back our overly anxious, frustrated child. We were just hoping things would be OK because it was at a specialized school. In reality, though, the type of school doesn't matter, if the atmosphere is too overwhelming. Even the best staff can't magically make a child change into someone who isn't affected by what is going on around her.
Yesterday, K had the chance to visit the one option we thought was not going to be a good fit. In theory, it was perfect. A stress-free envioronment. Kids are allowed to work where they want, take breaks whenever they want, and where even the most benign sticker charts don't exist. The staff does everything in their power to make the school day as anxiety free as possible. The kids are even encouraged to bring in comfort items from home. It sounds great, but how does it prepare my kid for life? Even though we have a child whose anxiety could probably power a small village, my husband and I were still caught up in needing K to be placed somewhere that looked like a "real" school. Ironic, since "real" school didn't work for K, and we fought tooth and nail to get her out.
There was even part of me that thought K would hate the school, herself. I was fully prepared for her to charge out at some point, saying there was no way she was going there. During the hour she spent visiting the classroom (without me), I sat in the cafeteria imagining the giant meltdown she was probably having, being soemwhere that was such a bad fit.
What I was not prepared for was how she actually felt.
When I came back to the school after her visit, the first thing she did was throw her hands in the air and proclaim, I love this school! When can I come back!?
It was the first school she said that about, of the several we've visited. My husband asked if it was just because she spent more time there, which is a valid question. However, the fact that the "other" schools had things like swimming pools, and wood working shops, and class pets, and she liked this one better (which has none of those things), is very telling. The other schools she liked because of those "extras". This school she liked because of the kids, and teachers. She felt safe there. Not even the promise of a swimming pool could trump that.
It's also just a calmer environment than the other schools we've seen. The classes are very small, just 4 kids and 2 teachers, each. Pretty much everything is the opposite of what we've dealt with before, and that's probably what K needs.
It was a tough thing, to really sit down and be honest with myself about this whole school search. As much as I tell myself I've let go of all my dreams for K, clearly I haven't. I've always been honest with myself that inclusion just doesn't work for my kid, at least not now. But, I had to take that a step further, realizing any school that is going to fuel her anxiety in any way, is not a good match. It's just something else to accept. Sometimes it's hard to reconcile that the kid who just went for a bike ride alone, is still miles away from her typical peers. At least when it comes to school.
So, tomorrow K goes back for a 4 hour trial at this new school. If all goes well, that's where she'll be going. I know in my heart it's what's best...I just have to let my mind catch up. Letting go of dreams doesn't just happen in toddlerhood, when you are first faced with diagnosis. I'm just beginning to realize that now. K will be who she is meant to be, and I just have to keep reminding myself that. It's what she needs, not what I need.
Right now, she needs this school.