Friday, October 21, 2011

Idle Thoughts on a Son's Transition to Autistic Adulthood

Susan Senator
www.susansenator.com

“Well, that was school. I learned a lot.” This is what my husband Ned once imagined our son Nat might be thinking as he rode home from his very first day of school, back in 1993. The school was located in a junior college in the adjacent town; it was a mixed-disability class, as well as having typically developing children. Ned told me that he had no idea what Nat might make of school -- it was such a big concept to understand for a three year old, especially one with “Expressive Language Disorder and Autistic-Like Symptoms.” (This was his very first diagnosis; I almost like its quaint and evasive character, in the way that I can look back on almost anything from that long ago with fondness: awww, such a little innocent naive diagnosis.) Even though we prepared him with a Nat Book (known to most people as Social Stories, but the Nat Books were invented by me; I did not know about Social Stories back then) complete with pictures of the teachers, classroom, building, and bus, Ned wondered if Nat might think that “school” was just that one day.

Ned stayed hidden in the hallway those first few days of Nat’s preschool. He hid so that Nat could forget about him and get used to the teachers there. He stayed a long time, listening to Nat cry. It broke his heart, but he knew that they both had to get through it. Plus those first few days were just for an hour or two, of transition, so Ned recently realized that he must have been staying in the corridor for a while because the school day was so short.

“Debi [the teacher] finally got Nat to look at her and stop crying, by quoting the commercial from the MassMillions Lottery,” Ned reminded me of this fact recently. I had forgotten that Nat was entranced by the lottery commercials back then, and he got the words “MassMillions” mixed up with “Maximillian” in that Nat way of his that was wrong yet made sense. “And the winning Maximillian number is…” Nat has always had terrific teachers. Except for one or two bad apples, the entire bunch was pretty much wonderful.

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Will, Nat’s current teacher, called me the other day to set up a meeting so we can discuss the transition process for Nat’s graduation from school. The school is always so thoughtful and mindful of process. I remember how terrific they were getting Nat accustomed to the idea of living in The Residence. They used souped-up versions of the Nat Books, they used countdown calendars, they set up visits and dinners to The House. Nat was comfortable with the people and the place by the time move-in came.

His last day will be November 11, four days before he turns 22. We chose this day because it is a Friday, and Fridays make the most sense to be end days. We can then have his ceremony and party that afternoon. He will most likely spend his first days of Autistic Adulthood living with us at home, while we get the Group Apartment ready. We have settled on three-roommate group home in an apartment nearby. We have two other young men that we are hoping will become Nat’s roommates; their parents have to figure out how they themselves can prepare for this big change, as well as their sons. Our service provider is about to start recruiting a live-in caregiver. We have chosen Nat’s Day Program, in a nearby town. This program has many ties with local businesses like Shaws Supermarket, and we imagine Nat will have a lot of worthwhile stuff to do with his time there. I’m pretty sure the day program would likely begin the following Monday, November 14. Unless we decide to take Nat on a little vacation first, to celebrate his achievements.

Tonight Ned and I were talking about Nat’s imminent graduation, because we realized it was the same day as a friend’s annual dance party. We figure we can do both. One year we brought Nat to the dance party, and he loved it, of course. The way he dances is to hop straight up and down. “I wonder what Nat’s going to think that day,” Ned said. He paused a beat and then said, “Well, that was school. I learned a lot.”

We both laughed.

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This essay was previously published at http://susansenator.com.