It’s been hanging out there, all summer, the knowledge Jewel will be starting middle school this fall, and all the anticipation, dread, anxiety and hopefulness that means. The transition is tough on all kids, as they start a new school, with new people and new routines, then throw adolescence and being the youngest on campus into the mix … it’s a big ball of uck feelings. This is especially true of girls. And this is especially true of my autistic girl.
If talking about the impending changes counts for anything, then Jewel is 100% ready. She has worked through so many scenarios in her head, culled from extensive reading and website searches. Variations of “what to expect from middle school” and “How to deal with bullying in middle school” litter her web search history; I am thankful her mind works this way, that she needs the visual cues of a written-out list to help guide her.
This research and our talks (oh, how we’ve talked) help her develop scripts in her head for all sorts of situations, but of course you can’t plan what reality will be. And all of the front-loading in the world can’t either.
Jewel has been obsessed with getting a top locker. She doesn’t want to bend over to load and unload, she says it makes her dizzy. She has used the phrase “top locker” with me about 3,197 times, approximately, since last spring. I do not use the word “obsessed” lightly.
At registration day last week, I front-loaded her: we had completed all the necessary forms online so would get in a “fast-pass” line to begin, take school pictures, turn in PTA and emergency kit forms, buy PE clothes, get her class schedule, get a combination lock and her locker number, get textbooks, and escape with our lives. I didn’t know what order it would go. We got there early but not too early because the other grades went before us and I knew Jewel couldn’t handle waiting in the sun for too long.
And of course it was chaos … the fast-pass line extended quite a ways down the parking lot and the sidewalk. Jewel had a fan that attaches to her phone via USB, which helped. A friend of hers joined us in line to provide a needed distraction. A wonderful teacher from her elementary school was working the PE clothes stop and took Jewel aside to help her. But it was hot and overwhelming and confusing, and I took my eye off the prize. Jewel left with a couple of friends to find her locker while I tried to find the textbooks stop, but she came back to me in tears. It was a bottom locker.
I had her look at me hard, and reminded her first impressions mean a lot, and the school cafeteria was teeming with kids she would have classes with, see every day. She pulled herself together as I told her we would talk to the school office staff about switching lockers, that we had talked about that plan if she indeed had been assigned a bottom one. We both took a deep breath, and headed to the office.
While locker assignments were not among the major issues the lone woman working in the office instead of the registration area needed to be contending with that day, she remembered Jewel from her old elementary school as I explained she was in the program specially designed for autistic children. She gave us a list of the limited available lockers and Jewel found one that was at the end of the row, at the end of the hallway, next to an open door, and best of all, it was a “top locker”! Success came with A LOT of help.
School starts Thursday, so now it’s about front-loading the specifics. She has her class schedule and a map of the school, so she can map out her moves from class to class. She is practicing how to do a combination lock and has organized her binder and other supplies. Her first day of school outfit is, naturally for this fashionista, planned out to the last detail.
The wonderful part of all this is that all of the other kids are doing this too, it is typical. This is a big deal to someone who is usually confronted with being “non-typical.” She wants to fit in, and it appears she is off to a great start.