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  • Kirk

So far, so good for our freshman

I'd really hoped to share something exciting this morning about the first parent-teacher conferences Cindy and I participated in last Wednesday evening as the parents of our now-high school freshman son. We’ve recently gained a few new followers thanks to Cindy’s brilliant idea to create t-shirts promoting our blog, which we hope experiences even more growth in the coming weeks and months. We want to keep them, as well as the folks who have been following us for the last several months, both informed and entertained.

As has been the case since Nolan first entered school nearly 12 years ago in our district’s early-childhood program, deep down I hoped that maybe his teachers had discovered he was adept at a certain subject or subjects, and Cindy and I just weren’t aware of it (“Nolan breezed through addition and subtraction, and now he’s showing that he understands multiplication!”). Deep down I hoped that maybe there had been an unexpected breakthrough (“Nolan pointed to the correct word when we asked him to – twice!”). Knowing that my boy has a knack for keeping everyone on their toes, I hoped I might have a humorous story to pass along (“We really appreciate the fact Nolan loves the musical instrument app on his iPad, but we had to remind him that playing the accordion full blast when the principal stops in the classroom to visit is a definite no-no.”).

So, what did our 20-plus minute Zoom conference reveal? One of his teachers opened by telling us that Nolan was doing “an awesome job.” Sure, there had been an adjustment period the first week or two after Nolan transitioned from virtual to face-to-face instruction September 9, but he’s since become very comfortable. The paraprofessionals really enjoy working with him. His toileting, which can be erratic in terms of relieving himself where he’s supposed to, is getting better. If there is an area where there is room for improvement, it’s the need for him to work through frustrating situations and use his iPad to better communicate.

And as for giving you something to chuckle about? The best I can do is tell you that Nolan has enjoyed skipping and dancing around the track when the teachers and paraprofessionals have taken him and his classmates outside for afternoon walks on nice days. And he really enjoys busting a move when it’s windy.

Was the news happy for both mom and dad? I think and hope at least one of Nolan’s teachers saw us smile before we logged off Cindy’s laptop. Was it “I’m going to stand on the front steps with a bullhorn and let the people living three blocks away know my son is kicking some serious butt at school” news? Of course not. But it was so very welcome.

While the world seems to keep spinning out of control and using the words “normal day” at the Bey hacienda will get you a loud belly-laugh, Nolan has settled back into a routine – get on the bus, go to school, go home with dad – and for the most part he’s has done pretty well. Being denied face-to-face instruction the last 2½ months of middle school this past spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown did him no favors, as did not being able to actually go inside the high school he’d be attending until his first day of in-person learning. The only type of instruction he’d had before going back to school was half a summer’s worth of music therapy, and those sessions were only a half-hour long once a week.

I was both relieved and ecstatic when I found out Nolan, as well as several other disabled students in the district, could begin receiving face-to-face instruction the second week of September. Having dad be the teacher, as was the case this past spring, simply wasn’t going to cut it. One of Nolan’s elementary school paraprofessionals told me several times years ago that the high school special education staff was simply incredible, and that he – we – would love them.

She was right, except for one thing. Incredible isn’t a strong enough adjective to describe the teachers and paraprofessionals there. They’ve been very kind and patient with Nolan. They see a young man who is very capable of succeeding despite having Autism and being nonverbal. They’re taking the time to get to know him so that he can thrive and be happy. One of Nolan’s teacher even sent me a text last Thursday morning to let me know she thought he had a headache and the nurse had tracked down some chewable ibuprofen for him.

It’s nice knowing Nolan is around people who are making a concerted effort to understand him. One of his past teachers, who had gotten her start in special education, blindsided us with no forewarning at a parent-teacher conference by telling us about every negative behavior he’d been exhibiting for the previous month. Another special education teacher seemingly told us about five negative things about Nolan for every positive thing she mentioned about him. Granted, I never want someone to blow smoke up my backside and tell me that my son is doing everything he’s supposed to do to the letter, because I know that isn’t the case. But it’s frustrating to hear about all the bad stuff and that it should have been dealt with yesterday.

I really believe Nolan is in tune with how someone feels about him – good or bad. The fact he has such an understanding crew working with him has made his transition back to school successful so far.

I know there are countless parents whose kids still are learning virtually, and they might have to do so for several more weeks or months. I make no apologies for the fact Nolan has been able to return to school. Routine and structure are vital to his success, and he’s gotten both of those back. Seeing him skip to the school bus almost every morning is one of the highlights of my day. Hearing that there have been no major problems thus far gives me hope that even though there ultimately will be some rough spots this year, Nolan is well on his way to succeeding as a high school student.

Maybe that doesn’t make for a fist-pumping or tear-jerking post, and that’s OK. Sometimes something as simple as hearing Nolan is happy and doing what he’s supposed to be doing is more than enough.

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