April is Autism Awareness Month. I wanted provide a small glimpse into our life and how it is affected by Joseph being diagnosed to bring awareness and understanding. You can read more about our journey here.
This has been an amazing year of growth for Joey. He is currently enrolled in a general education Kindergarten class and seems to be thriving there. He loves everything about school and takes great pride that he is “almost a first grader”. Joe receives speech and occupational therapy at school, in addition to private music therapy/lessons, and has some additional assistance from the resource room aide, his beloved Mrs. G, in his main classroom.
His teacher, Mrs. L, is wonderfully patient, yet firm enough to handle Joey’s considerable charm. She understands that his ASD gives him some extra challenges, but doesn’t allow that as an excuse or crutch. He is his champion when working with the rest of the staff to help them understand how his ASD “works” and does everything she can to make sure he is getting every opportunity. (I have volunteered in the classroom and have seen this for all her students. She is a true gem and I’m so thankful for her.)
Mrs. G is Joey’s cheerleader and possibly his biggest fan. Their relationship is so sweet and loving, I know that she would do anything for him. It helps me knowing that he has someone there to give him that sense of security and comfort.
I have to say that the entire staff, have been nothing but warm, positive, and supportive to Joey. I love walking him into the school and seeing him say hello to the librarian, telling his gym teacher he’ll see him on Tuesday, or giving the principal a fist bump. His classmates have been amazing as well. His teacher explained that Joey has ASD and sometimes does things differently and they all take it in stride. After walking Joey into class after being absent for being sick, they all welcomed him back to school with hugs and smiles. It brought tears to my eyes.
This isn’t to say that we haven’t had some challenges this year. Joe’s impulsivity and stubbornness can lead to not wanting to follow directions or complying with non-prefered tasks. He also can find it difficult to follow spoken directions or adjust to things outside of his routine. However, overall, he seems to being doing quite well and continues to show improvement in these areas and I’m hopeful that, with the continued support, he’ll continue to thrive at school.
In addition to Joey’s current school situation, I wanted to share a little more about where he fits on the Spectrum. Although it is not an official diagnosis, Joe is considered High Functioning Autism (HFA). Joey has been described as “scattered” when tested for ASD symptoms, meaning that some typical characteristics such as stimming and severe verbal limitations are not present while others, such as poor eye contact and sensory dysfunction.
Joey is bright, verbal, socially aware, and can show affection. He has age-appropriate academic skills. At first glance, most people do not realize that he has ASD. This creates a set of challenges that can be different than those who place elsewhere on the spectrum. By being “high functioning” Joey is asked to navigate a world in a neurotypical way even though he has these extra set of challenges. This can lead to unobtainable expectations at school, judgmental attitudes in public, and sometimes even misunderstanding with family members. I highly recommend reading this article to understand why HFA is so challenging and that no matter where someone falls on the spectrum, “it is important to remember that autism is autism.”