In much opposition to what my heart was comfortable with, my oldest son started public school at the age of 3. Camden was diagnosed with autism at 2 years and 2 months, although we knew much sooner. He entered our district’s PPCD (Preschool Program for Children with Disabilities) STC (Structured Teach Class) specifically designed for children on the autism spectrum. 2:1 teacher to student ratio. ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis) training for teachers. Lots of reinforcement.
I recall vividly the Spring Break of that first year Camden started school. Honestly, I was nervous. My one-year-old was still nursing and he was fussy. We had some concerns about his health as well. My big guy struggled with appropriate play. For parents with neurotypical children it may seem strange, but for many kids with autism it is one of the greater challenges. Camden also does better with structure. So…thinking about how to keep my oldest entertained and engaged while balancing the little guy and some concerns we had for him seemed a bit daunting at that time. Not to mention that everything was tainted from extreme sleep deprivation.
That first Monday of Spring Break I recall sitting on the floor with Camden working on a Yo Gabba Gabba number puzzle. He was highly motivated by Yo Gabba. I dumped out the numbers 1-10 with a goal that Camden would take each piece and place it into the appropriate insert. Instead, he took the pieces and started lining them on the floor against the wall. He was VERY MUCH into lining up objects at that time, so I assumed it was an OCD behavior. I looked at the puzzle pieces and realized he was putting them in order. I was STUNNED. Camden started PPCD that year with two words: “up” and “go.” Until the puzzle incident we really had no idea what he knew. When he finished lining up the number pieces, I would ask him, “give me four” or “give me nine,” and he was able to identify every one of them.
Counting was the first academic skill that Camden accomplished entirely on his own. That was a big ole turning point for us. In the next couple of months that followed, we discovered that he could receptively identify his colors and shapes. The alphabet and sight words came shortly thereafter.
And certainly, the message of HOPE is huge for us. Maybe it’s the melancholy in me, but one of my very favorite verses is from Proverbs 13:12. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” While I have never been without hope, I have certainly longed and ached for various things. Words. Eye contact. Shared interests. To hear “mama” or “I love you.” Those longings have been fulfilled, and boy did it feel good.