Renewed Hope

Nico is a third grader this year and with each new year comes new triumphs and challenges. That’s typical for all kids, I’m sure, but couple that with the uncertainty of autism, and how it will present itself each growing year and it becomes a heavy weight to carry.

Nico’s second grade year was not the smoothest and it definitely left much to be desired, so all summer long I was in panic mode deciding if we could withstand another traditional school year. When you start to think that homeschooling your child may be easier and more beneficial, it changes EVERYTHING. And since so much of our lives have already changed dramatically over these years since Nico’s diagnosis, more grand changes, like school options, bring on tremendous stress.

We don’t have the luxury to send him to a private school where his academics and therapy would be covered all in one place; not many families do have this luxury because costs are pretty steep, but as Nico has gotten older his academics have needed more attention and therefore need to take precedence.

But how can I focus on his academics when he is still minimally verbal in the way of conversational communication and has minimal writing capacity? Plus, we have the chance of meltdowns due to overstimulation, constant worry over bullying and mistreatment, and his lack of sustained interest in classroom instruction if it’s not delivered in ways that he learns best.

Now, I do understand that not every teacher is built to work with children like my son and there is nothing wrong with that. It takes a lot of patience, skill, creativity, and time. Plus, a ton of empathy and self-study of the autism spectrum. Nico is lovable and affectionate, funny and intuitive, but to work with him on a daily basis can be a challenge. This takes a special kind of educator. One who signs on knowing that each day will look different and you have to recognize small wins because those are the ones that will add up quicker and lead to lasting growth.

Perception changes and the BIG wins that a teacher may have celebrated with gusto in the past end up looking smaller, but deliver in HUGE ways when it comes to satisfaction and growth! Having this growth mindset is KEY to working with a child like Nico, but also takes immense dedication and drive.

My husband and I have been WAITING for the year where our hopes for a successful school year and the reality for this kind of year would collide and we think THIS YEAR may very well be the one!

Nico has been assigned what we are calling his “Dream Team” this year. He has his same Special Ed. Case Manager who was our saving grace from last year and his same Behavioral Management teacher and Instructional Assistant who were great positive male influences, BUT his third grade Gen. Ed. teacher is the most welcomed new addition we could have asked for! She is a LEGEND! She has been an educator for 13+ years and all of those years have been spent at our son’s school. She was Nico’s first grade teacher, but we had to keep him out of school due to COVID restrictions, so we felt like he was cheated out of having a true student-teacher relationship with her. Never in my wildest dreams did I think we would get a “re-do” with her, but I can’t help but think it’s because this is Nico’s year!

This teacher KNOWS our son so well and genuinely cares about him. I know she will push him towards greatness because she knows he can do it, but will never cause him to struggle more than he already does. She believes in Nico and you can’t ask for anything greater in a teacher! I am pinching myself and trying not to jinx anything because right now I feel like we are in the BEST possible position for providing Nico a successful year!

As soon as I found out who his teacher team would be, the massive weight of stress and anxiety seemed to literally be lifted. I stopped researching virtual home schooling options and I ceased my research into long term school changes. This is what RENEWED HOPE can do for an autism parent. When you trust and believe this much in the people who will be educating your child, your mindset shifts from damage control to excitement and relief!

These teachers have WORKED to learn who my son is, how he learns best, what causes him to struggle, and what makes him happy. They want nothing but the best for him every single day, and even when it got hard some days last year, they gave him grace and empathy knowing that if it was hard for them….imagine what it was like for him.

My son woke up ecstatic today and thank goodness…so did my husband and I. He had a smile on his face the whole morning. He let his dad take pictures of him (which is beyond rare), and he walked into his school using as much language as he could muster to let everyone know just how HAPPY he was to be at school. For a parent who has done nothing but pray and hope and work tirelessly to ensure that moments like these being witnessed today could become a reality…seeing Nico this pumped for school was LIFE-CHANGING. It was life-saving really.

We are big believers in positive affirmations in our family. Nico has always thrived on positive feedback, encouragement and affirmation, so to keep his spirit of positivity and light going I have decided to have Nico read a different affirmation card each morning. I think it will help instill the feelings of excitement and empowerment that Nico exuded today. I had spent most of the weekend trying to come up with over 50 different affirmations and then realized they looked pretty dull just printed out on paper, so I turned to my favorite spot, Etsy!

There I found the cutest affirmation cards that I was able to purchase for a super cheap cost and print out on the spot. (If you are interested in doing something like this for your kiddo, check these cards out!) I think this is so important to foster in our children at an early age; I have seen how it can have ripple effects for years to come when children feel a sense of self-empowerment and worth. My Nico needs that! All kids do!

I don’t know what this year has in store for us— considering it’s Nico’s first state testing year I know it’s going to unearth new challenges, for sure—but if we can keep this vibe going for a majority of our days, I know it will be a legendary year! We have all the right people in place, a phenomenal school community, a dedicated and supportive administrative team, and a love for our son that will move mountains…I feel good about our chances!

Just know…it is possible to have—and YOU and YOUR CHILD deserve—a positive school experience. There are amazing teachers in every single school building around. We just have to advocate for it. Get involved and stay involved. And, always have hope that there are teachers out there that WANT to be your child’s teacher. They WANT to see your child excel just as much as you do and will be right beside you moving those mountains to make it happen.

Good luck this year! Your kids are going to shine! Trust and believe and always hope for the best!

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