Present word count of WIP: 51,026
I felt like the most heartless mother in the world that next Monday when I took him to the Sunshine School and then left, his crying following me all the way out to the parking lot. As you might imagine, guilt plagued me all day long, and when Allison and I went to pick him up again in the afternoon and I felt the way he clung to me, I was almost of a mind to forget the whole thing.
Fortunately for him, I didn’t. I tamped down the guilt the next morning and swallowed hard as I helped him on to the small school bus and then waited a second, long day…and a third…and so on. Eventually, he began boarding the bus himself.
Though it took a while for Jason to feel at home at Sunshine, by his second year there I couldn’t deny that he was thriving in ways he never would have at home alone with me. The staff there was tremendous and they fell in love with the little guy. So did many of his fellow students, whether they were blind, crippled, had Down Syndrome, or were otherwise disabled. In fact, that was one of the best things about the school. It broke down barriers between the so-called “different.”
His teachers were able to help me finally potty train him by age 4 and speech therapy helped a lot. In fact, he was beginning to speak better than most children his age. Our health coverage paid for some occupational therapy sessions, but he didn’t make as many strides there in terms of gross motor skill development. In fact, he fought it. The one great thing we got out of it were the two big therapy balls, which he and Allison then began to play with around the house.
Every day after he’d get home from school and eat, he’d bounce all over on the smaller of the two balls as his way of decompressing or “stimming.” (Today, he draws cartoons, instead.) As for his oral and tactile defensiveness, the most progress he made was the day they said they got him to drink half of a little carton of chocolate milk…and the one time they got him to try finger painting (he hated it).
In the meantime, I was trying to teach Allison to read. To help her with letters and sounds, I bought a Muppets software program and tried to get her interested in playing the games it included on our computer. She didn’t feel comfortable around the computer, however. But Jason did. As soon as she’d climb down off the chair, Jason would take her place. He was fascinated by all these visual cues and he loved playing those Muppets games. Gradually, I became aware that he had taught himself to read. In fact, he was doing so well academically at Sunshine that they finally had to “exit” him from the school early because he no longer qualified as “communicatively handicapped.”
I put him in a regular pre-school for the remaining 4-5 months, which of course only met three days a week from 9 am to noon. He did fine there, but he really missed Sunshine and he didn’t make any new friends.
By the fall of 1999, he was reading at an advanced level. This was confirmed by Ms. Bouton, his assigned Kindergarten teacher, when she met him before the start of the school year. She met with all her kids before the first day of school to test their reading and math levels, and when she brought Jason out after testing him, she asked, “Who taught him to read? Did you?” I explained about the Muppets program and said he’d really taught himself, though I had always made it a point to read to both of my children every night. She informed me Jason was already reading at a first or second grade level.
I remember taking him back home that day and wondering, Do I have a little genius on my hands?
For that reason alone, I made another fortuitous decision: to get involved immediately in our school’s PTO. After all, if I had a gifted child, I wanted to be sure he was going to get all the services he needed.
He made his way through his Kindergarten year relatively unscathed. After all, all the kids were new, so they helped each other out, and they got to play in their own protected playground. They enjoyed Jason despite his little quirks because he was always well behaved. He even became popular in his own way. The other kids were entertained when he’d perfectly re-enact scenes and songs from videos he’d seen.
But it wasn’t just the children who were charmed. The teachers and staff at his elementary school took to him as quickly as had those at Sunshine. He’d think nothing of correcting Ms. Bouton in a matter-of-fact way if she happened to misread something aloud to the class, and rather than be offended, she’d be amused.
By the end of his Kindergarten year, Jason had made several friends and I was in line to be PTO Vice President in the fall. In addition, I was becoming good friends with the school principal. As I saw it, I would be getting my little boy wonder ready for possible entry into the school’s GATE program for the gifted.
Actually, we were heading toward something else entirely. A new diagnosis.
On Monday, I’ll post about Jason’s pivotal First Grade year.