Simone writes: Hi Philip, my son is turning 15 now and he will start attending his first regular class next school year. Can you share your experience and also give us some advice based on your own transition?
Transitioning from my autism school to regular school was a long process. I wanted to learn more interesting things than my autism school had to offer. I looked for more challenges to keep my mind sharp and active. I wanted a regular education. I wanted to be like my siblings getting interesting things to learn about.
I am learning to be patient about reaching my goals. Being in a body like mine is difficult. My body is geared as one built for another planet besides Earth. I have a difficult time feeling my body in space. I feel as if I don’t have weight. I need a lot more sensory input than most people. I get input by moving, tapping, sniffing, and deep pressure to my body. Once I get calm, I need less input. Teachers learned that I needed sensory input throughout the day so I could feel calmer at school. I was allowed to take walks with my weighted vest before my regular classes. I had times I could have a break for listening to music, rocking on a chair, or smelling nice candles. It was a good thing to have sensory breaks.
I have made a lot of progress throughout my time at Heim Middle. When I look back when I first started in the middle of 5th grade, I am amazed I was not kicked out of the school. I talked less than almost all my autistic classmates. I could not use my letterboard well for my teachers. I got so anxious around everyone because I felt like I was a burden and a nuisance. This led to many meltdowns during my first few months at school. I was frustrated because I wanted to show I was smart and belonged there. But my body was like a wild bull not wanting to obey anyone. I would even make my teachers frightened by my aggressive actions that happened when I became overwhelmed with frustration or anxiety. I am fortunate my teachers put up with me while I was adjusting to a new school.
I got better at managing my body eventually. I learned to realize that even though I felt my body's negative sensations due to anxiety or stress, I could talk to myself about letting it pass without as much negative behavior from me. My mom and I started a morning routine of reading Bible verses and a devotion about it. I would write a morning report about it and post it on Facebook. I came to the realization that I could sit still by concentrating on God’s word and what I learned from it. I could calm my worries.
When I was able to relax more, I started to type much better with teachers. I got used to each person’s style of working with me. I wanted to work harder to be able to participate in regular classes. I was not able to go regularly until grade 7 when I started science, social studies, and technology. I learned to advocate for myself by typing my intentions at my IEP meeting. I almost was denied the opportunity but my speaking up in person made the difference.
My body is still lacking control though I have come very far. Taming my body is more than I can handle alone. That is why I needed an aide at all times. An aide keeps me on task and makes sure I do not get too distracted. I could not get through my days without my amazing aides. I learned to be more disciplined with my body but I know I must continue to work hard at this.
Impulsive behaviors sometimes set back my progress. I sometimes get in a phase of impulsivity where I do irrational things like flipping light switches rapidly or slamming doors. I know it annoys others a lot but I feel compelled to keep doing it. I have learned when I get impulsive, I have to stop what I am doing and question myself why I am doing it. I can sometimes make impulses go away faster now.
I have just finished 8th grade. I participated in my graduation ceremony. I walked across the stage by myself to receive my certificate. It was a very proud moment for me. I even went to the dance after. It was fun. I am going to miss Heim very much.
I am both excited and nervous to start high school. It will be brand new with different teachers and aides. It is going to be another adjustment but maybe I will be more able to adjust better now. I have gained a lot of wisdom these past few years. I want my high school experience to be as good as middle school. I hope everyone there will believe in me like my teachers in middle school did.
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