We went to Sonoma today to get out of the fog, eat really good deli sandwiches and visit Train Town, which I've been betting would be big fun for Isaac. Like a lot of the earliest California towns, Sonoma has a real square, complete with band shell, military barracks, cheese stores, sweet little shops and plentiful fudge. In a word, heaven for us city-weary types.
We arrived at lunch time and grabbed sandwiches to eat in the square, which sports a nice little swing set and some sandy but serviceable picnic tables. We wolfed our meal and spent a lovely half hour pushing Isaac on the swing. He counted in Portuguese, Spanish and Swahili before reverting to English. "Forty-seven, forty-eight, forty-nine, forty-nine...actually, fifty."
Afterwards, we headed to Train Town. Like his beloved steam trains, it's a tiny little narrow-gauge railway that runs through a gorgeous wooded area. And to our amazement and delight, Isaac insisted on taking his very first amusement park rides: a plane (pictured), the "Scrambler," which, judging from his passionate insistence that he ride it OVER AND OVER, is like crack for the vestibular system, and the piece-de-resistance, the dragon roller coaster.
Of course the day was also punctuated by numerous bathroom visits (to look, mostly) a bit of elevator obsession and a late-afternoon meltdown, but Isaac finally nodded off on the drive back, giving J. and me a chance to catch up on this turbulent week.
When Isaac was first diagnosed, I thought that the hardest thing about having a child on the spectrum would be having a child on the spectrum. But I quickly discovered that I was focused on entirely the wrong thing. Having Isaac has been my greatest gift, and if you've read beyond this post, I don't think I need to explain why. And so here's my five-cent revelation, guys: the hardest thing about having a child on the spectrum is the relentless advocating--every damn minute of every damn day--to make sure that the rest of the world treats him with the respect and care he deserves, until such time as he can do it for himself.
And, with that, it's time to talk about the first week of school.
In many ways it was good, but (here's the Bill Clinton part) it depends on what you mean by "good." If what you mean is: did Isaac do well, did he adjust relatively smoothly, did he handle the separation without torrents of tears, did he learn something new, are the teachers warm and caring, is the facility bright and well maintained, does everyone in the school have the best of intentions? Well, sure.
But if by "good" you mean: are the teachers and after-school staff provided enough training in how to work with children with autism? Is there enough support provided for the inclusion kids? No. There wasn't much sleeping done here this week.
It's not a teacher issue: it's systemic. And it means that a lot of kids fall through the cracks because advocating for them is a full-time job.
All of you with older children know this. You know this and you fight every day for what your kids need. It's exhausting. And teachers are forced to pay Paul (and hope Peter doesn't notice) each and every day. As are--let's face it--administrators, who must navigate the medieval bureaucracies and politics of the state educational system, which is being slowly suffocated under the selfish, festering legacy of California's notorious Proposition 13.
And so the irony is that Isaac actually had a pretty good week. He likes his teacher, she seems to like him, and aside from recess, he seems to be adjusting to school just fine.