For most 3-year-olds, going to preschool is an exciting adventure full of big kid stuff, like eating at the snack table, playing on the playground, and learning to share. All of my kids happily bounced off to preschool ready to take on this whole new world.
But what about children with special needs? What about the kids who are unable to verbalize how they are feeling? What about the kids who are trapped inside their own minds? Their moms worry and wonder. They hope their little, big kids are okay. Adrian Wood of Tales of an Educated Debutante is one such mom.
Mother of four, Wood’s youngest child is named Amos. Her Facebook page is full of his smiling face and messy blonde hair. He might look like your son (he looks a little like mine), but when my kids were 3, they chattered on about their day. They told me about art projects and the reading carpet. They talked about how Molly wore a blue dress and Pete the Cat. I knew if they were happy, sad, scared, or angry. And I knew this because they used their words to tell me. Amos, a child with autism, does not.
Wood opens an honest and heartbreaking Facebook post with the following questions she cannot answer on account of her son’s limited verbal abilities.
“How did he like school?
How was his first day of school?
How does he like school?
I don’t know, I’ve begun to say. I’m supposed to say, ‘Great!’, but I can’t. I hope so, but I really have no idea. I wish I knew. It’s awfully hard, this never knowing and wondering when your little person can’t articulate their day or feelings.”
Wood tells Babble, “Last summer he had six words and now he has too many to count. However, he doesn’t have language to answer questions about how he feels. He can make choices between what to eat or what to do if we go outside, but not clarify about his day. It requires reading of his cues much like one would a young toddler.”
Thankfully, there are some good signs that Amos is happy. According to Wood, Amos “hopped right in with the family we are carpooling with again this year.” To her, this action showed his excitement about attending school. Her post goes on to say that her son hopped off the bus at the end of the day and said, “‘Bye bye yellow school bus.’ I think that means he liked it.”
Wood admits her older kids “jabbered about the day” at 3-years-old. “What they did, people in their class, the teachers, playing in the gym, even the letters in their names, I heard about every single detail. But Amos? Crickets. I never got a worrisome phone call and I wondered what he had for lunch or if he fell asleep. Did he question why his siblings weren’t on the bus today?”
And that is why she decided to share her story. Wood tells Babble that, like all parents of children with special needs, she “hadn’t planned for this life of having a son with special needs” and that on the first day, she felt grief having to accept that life didn’t go as planned. “I kept thinking, surely other moms feel this heartbreak and it’s terrible. I shared it because I hoped no one else was feeling alone. I adore Amos, but the road is not easy, wonderful, and amazing, but hard. Life is hard, and it’s okay to acknowledge it.”
But despite the heartache of that first day of school, her grief was washed away when Amos hopped off of that yellow school bus:
“I saw his face light up when he saw me from outside the window at his bus stop,” she shares in her post. “He lit up and wriggled in excitement and when I made my way up the bus stairs, he cackled in delight and leapt into my arms. A kind kindergartener handed me his backpack and then he got down and climbed down the big old bus stairs. All by his own self.”
So for now, Wood will have to read his cues. She’ll have to try and decipher how he feels through his smiles and frowns. She’ll eagerly await the new words he’s learning. And she’ll wait for him at that bus stop with her arms open; ready to wrap him up to make sure he knows that he’s okay. Because that’s what autism does. It makes you wait. It makes you decode and decipher. It makes you question everything — including yourself.
But at the end of the day, you’re still a mom to a perfect little boy who is just as he was meant to be.