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  • Kirk

A quiet first semester, but still a really good one

Out of the many topics Cindy and I have written about over the past several months, I realize that one has been conspicuously absent: how Nolan has been doing during his sophomore year of high school. Please believe me when I say that this hasn’t been by design.

I mean, we have shared school-related updates here and there via social media since this past autumn. For example, Nolan earned an academic letter in November for finishing his freshman year with a 3.5 grade-point average. In October, he started his in-school job – which includes folding towels, cleaning windows, and sorting silverware – and to date he’s earned more than $100 for his piggy bank. And he did a pretty good job playing in his first normal Adaptive Sports League soccer season.

But I have to admit, posts about Nolan’s day-to-day activities at school have been almost nonexistent. There are exceptions, but overall, our weekdays are pretty pedestrian. He boards the bus five mornings a week. He follows his daily schedule for almost 7½ hours, and I pick him up. We can see by the assignments that periodically come home in his folder that he’s doing his academic work. He does it more willingly some days than others, but he is doing it.

As the second semester begins Tuesday, I can tell you that the first half of the school year went pretty well for Nolan. I can tell you that his teachers are pleased with his progress. I can tell you he’s doing exactly what any student should be doing when he or she is at school: reading, writing, and arithmetic. And he’s also preparing for life as an adult in the real world.

So, I think it’s fair to say he’s meeting expectations – ours, and those of all the amazing people who work with him. And yeah, I think it’s very fair to say that he’s been doing just fine, thanks.

Cindy and I have always known that Nolan is an intelligent young man despite the challenges of having Autism and being nonverbal. Unfortunately, we encountered individuals both at the elementary and middle school levels who either didn’t take the time to see what we saw or chose not to do so.

Anyone who asked me how Nolan was doing during those years would have heard about how one of his teachers or paraprofessionals would share what was at times a long list of challenges he had had on a particular day. They would have heard about how, despite Cindy and I patiently explaining multiple times to multiple people that Nolan has a wonky gastrointestinal system, his loose stool has to be a sign that he’s sick and he needs to leave school immediately! I reached the point when I would cringe any time the school’s phone number showed up on my caller ID and ask whoever was calling what Nolan had done wrong. That includes his speech teacher, who called me one morning simply to tell me how well he had been doing for her.

Being in a high school setting the last 1½ years has made a big difference for Nolan. It helps that he has matured. So does having teachers and paraprofessionals who have taken the time to get to know him and understand what will help him succeed.

Nolan’s primary special education teachers – the one he had as a freshman and the one he has this year – have been excellent communicators, both with him and with Cindy and me. They’ve sent me texts to let me know when Nolan had a headache and needed a dose of ibuprofen, and when they’ve noticed something that’s gotten past me that I should be aware of. The teacher Nolan is working with this year gives me a brief summary of the day’s events when I pick him up at the end of the school day. He’s genuinely excited when Nolan does something well, such as doing what is expected of him in technology class without any behaviors (“He followed his visual schedule and rocked it!”). He’s positive even when Nolan isn’t having his best day (“He didn’t finish his work right away, but he went back later and finished it.”).

Nolan’s yearly Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings used to be a source of stress for both of us, but that's no longer the case. The IEP meeting that we had with Nolan’s teachers in mid-December was both productive and insightful. They highlighted his strengths. They pointed out areas in which he can improve and expressed confidence that he eventually will. They also have an eye on what his post-high school life will look like, as do we, and they expressed their willingness to help us in any way possible.

I think Nolan can sense that he’s surrounded by people who care about him and know what he’s capable of. And he often responds accordingly.

Last Wednesday, he and his classmates walked to a fast-food restaurant located near school for lunch. The special education staff had worked with Nolan on how to use his iPad to order what he wanted, and how much money he would need to pay for his meal. The teacher told me Nolan ordered what he wanted without hesitation, paid the cashier with some of the birthday money Cindy’s mother had given him, sat in a booth with one of the paraprofessionals and ate his lunch without any negative behaviors, just like a neurotypical 16-year-old should. He probably behaved better than some of them based on what I’ve seen.

There was a day a couple of weeks ago when I thought perhaps Nolan was in for a rough school day for whatever reason that I can’t remember right now off the top of my head. I got out of my car when I saw Nolan and his teacher exit the building, walked toward them and asked how things had gone. Nolan’s teacher thought for a moment, but he couldn’t think of anything, either positive or negative, that stood out. My son had done everything asked of him. I sort of shrugged and said, “Sometimes no news is good news,” and I was content with that.

Yeah, we haven’t shared much about Nolan’s school year thus far, and perhaps that will change between now and early June. The only thing that really matters is that I know Nolan is working hard at school and continuing to move forward. Maybe it doesn’t qualify as exciting news to share with the masses, but it makes me feel extremely proud of him.

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