Walking into school on the first day of kindergarten.
There's my 5 year old looking much more like a 15 year old as he struts his way into his new school for the first day. It's unbelievable.
We were concerned about the switch to public school from private deaf school, but fortunately for Ethan, the change has been nothing but positive. Glowing, even. I never would have dreamed we'd be in this position and be so happy about it, but we have certainly stumbled into the right school district.
He's in a social communication classroom for K-1 with a total of 7 students that rotate in and out of the room throughout the day. There is a phenomenal teacher, 2 aides, an OT, an SLP and Ethan has his own interpreter, plus he gets 2 hours of one to one each week with a hearing impaired teacher. His signing has taken off since starting school, so the one on one language input he gets from his interpreter is making a huge impact. He has quickly transferred what he's doing in the classroom to his life at home. For example, the other day he signed "Where's dad?" - which is the first time in his life that he's asked a question. The interpreter has been teaching him the names of the other children (they all have sign names now) and asking Ethan "Where is" questions to help him remember all the new names and faces. I think at the deaf school he was just surrounded by sign, now he's immersed in it with the one on one interpreter. He also seems to understand that she is his "voice". She told me that they were on the playground during recess (which he experiences with a mainstream kindergarten class) and he wanted to swing. A little girl was swinging and Ethan looked at his interpreter and signed "my turn". So the interpreter told the girl that Ethan would like a turn and the girl immediately hopped off and he got to swing. Last year he would have just hit the child, now he is communicating to his interpreter.
I also recently got my very first, unsolicited "I love you mom" in sign. He hugged and kissed me and told me 3 times in a row that he loves me. I am melting just writing about it.
His classroom is set up entirely around the ideas of what works with children who have an autism diagnosis. If you're interested in specifics, it's based on TEACCH. The goal is for the children to slowly and deliberately move their activities from this contained classroom to their mainstream classroom. For instance, they have the same language arts learning centers as their homeroom class with the hopes that they will learn to become independent enough at each center to join their homeroom for that activity. Each child goes to the library and recess and other specials with their "typical peers", and ideally they will be able to join them in other activities as the year progresses. It's pretty much exactly what Ethan needs and he seems to be thriving there. He absolutely loves going to school each day and runs to hug his interpreter when she greets him in the lobby. It's heartwarming, to say the least.
Ethan still isn't wearing his cochlear implants. He continues to say many of the words he signs and is still very motivated to speak, which I'm thankful for. His developmental specialist recommended we try risperdol to help "take the edge off" so to speak. He spent most of the summer in a foul mood and had several tantrums per day, some of them reaching levels that really scared me. He was even banging his head on glass doors and windows at one point. That's what made me realize that I needed to put my fear of risperdol aside and we needed to give it a try. Since then, he's literally a different child. He no longer loses control 50 times per day. He is finally able to show an ability to reason and to understand cause and effect. He is making huge strides in language. He is happy. He is doing well in school and not hitting the other children. It's really a game changer.
We'll be attempting to turn his ears on again soon and I'm trying not to get my hopes up too high. None of us know what it's like to be in that little body with a nervous system working against you and a whole host of sensory issues. As always, following his lead is the only course that feels acceptable, even if it's not what we had planned.