As my son made his way through his fourth grade year in public school, it became increasingly obvious that his needs weren’t being met. Despite the school’s best efforts, his language processing issues weren’t improving fast enough to keep up with all of the academic and social demands of school. He wasn’t engaging in learning. He seemed in a fog to his teachers. And socially, he struggled. He misinterpreted kids’ intentions and took everything personally, complaining that the other students weren’t nice to him. Once we determined that he also had auditory processing issues, we knew something drastic needed to happen.
Like I previously wrote on Kveller, we decided we needed to pull Joey out of public school and put him into a school that could better meet his needs. We looked around and eventually found a great school. It caters to children with learning disabilities, auditory and language processing disorders, and social issues. While Joey didn’t qualify as learning disabled, his language and auditory processing issues, as well as his social needs, qualified him for the school.
My husband and I toured the facility with the director. There were no more than five kids in a classroom. There were built-in FM systems for students with auditory issues. The school has a specific social skills curriculum. Students were grouped by ability and not by grade. The school’s goal is to help kids work on their issues and eventually graduate them to go to “regular” school when they are ready. This was where he needed to be. We wanted him to start immediately, if not sooner. We scheduled a day for Joey to shadow there.
But when it came time to tell Joey that we were thinking of switching schools in the middle of the school year, I knew the conversation would be difficult. When we broached the subject, his eyes filled with tears. He turned his head away so we couldn’t see it. When we explained that this school would help him pay attention, and there wouldn’t be so many kids to distract him, he promised to try harder. When we said that he wouldn’t have to worry about the kids in his class not being nice to him, he insisted that his friends must have all made New Years Resolutions to be nicer, because ever since he returned to school after the holidays, he hadn’t had any problems.
But he’s a trooper, and he agreed to spend a day at the new school to see what he thought. The director promised to pair him with a kid who liked Minecraft, just like him, so that they would have something to talk about.
When I went to pick him up, the most amazing thing happened. The administrator who went to retrieve him came back to me with a big smile on her face and said, “He is playing a game and asked if you could wait five minutes.” In the history of Joey, there has never been a time when he wanted to wait five minutes for anything, especially a school activity.
He said he liked the school, and agreed to start attending. Being the planner that he is, he wanted to know how many years he would be there. I told him I wasn’t sure, but that probably he would go there through middle school, and leave there in time to start high school.
After I worked out the financials, we decided to start him a few weeks later. On his last day of public school Joey brought home rocks. “Each one of these rocks is to remember a good memory or friend I had at the school,” he said. I choked up as he said, “This one is for Ethan. This one is for Laine. This one is for Mrs. Quint…”
Mrs. Quint also had every student write him a card wishing him well at his new school. I boo-hooed my eyes out reading each and every one twice. These kids were so sweet. They wished for him to make new friends, to have fun, and to come back to visit. Some of the kids drew Minecraft pictures on their cards, some just drew pictures of him. They are absolute treasures. I had a lump in my throat all weekend. Were we making the right decision? We took him out of a loving environment, and even though I knew that he was surviving and not thriving, I was no longer 100% sure that this was the right move.
The Monday that he started at the new school went insanely slow for me. I arrived 30 minutes early and sat in the parking lot waiting to pick him up. When he got in the car I asked him how his day was. I fully expected a shrug of the shoulders, or a “good,” like I normally get.
“I loved it,” he said. “I can see myself happy there for a few years.”
Luckily he sits in the back seat, so couldn’t see me crying happy tears all the way home.
A few days later, on Valentine’s Day, his brother (who attends his old school) brought home a box for Joey. Inside the box were valentines from his old class with a lovely note from his teacher.
Joey’s smile was one of the biggest I’ve ever seen. After eating a few pieces of candy, he asked if he could go back one day to visit his class. He looked at the new school’s schedule and quickly found a day that he had off, that his old school didn’t. “I’m going to go see my old friends in May,” he said. “I’ll tell them all about how much I love my new school, and how I miss them, but I am making new friends, and how maybe I’ll see them again in high school.”