A brand new school year has begun for many states this week in September, and some even back in August! I know that going back to school can be a hard transition for those living on the Autism spectrum for various reasons. In this blog story, I will share experiences of being a new kid with Autism during my elementary school years.
I attended Children’s Center of Monmouth County, a specialized school for students with Autism and multiple disabilities until 2nd grade. Before leaving Children’s Center of Monmouth County, I got to visit my first, public, elementary school that I would be attending in my town’s school district in 3rd grade: Frank J. Dugan Elementary School. I visited the elementary school one day during 2nd grade, in June of 2006. I enjoyed everything about my visit: from the moment I stepped into the building, to the classroom I was part of. The teacher assistant, Mrs.Russo, showed me to the classroom. As soon as I came to my desk, I saw a blue notebook with my name on it. The class felt very nice and welcoming to me, despite I was shy and smiley. It turned out that the teacher and her class I visited was going to be my future class in the upcoming school year. That made me very excited about being a student in the school!
When my first day of school in my town’s school district came, it was a big milestone for me! The mini-bus picked me up from my house, since my bus stop was my driveway. I was smiling the whole time on the bus because I was excited to be somewhere new, and I was nervous because of how everything would go for my first day. As soon as I arrived to the school, my teacher assistant, Mrs. Russo took me to our classroom. As soon as I was with my 3rd grade teacher, Miss. DeWynGeart (now Mrs. Hemschoot) and her class, it made me excited now as officially one of her students. In the beginning of the day, she introduced me to the class more of than when I visited, and I shared about myself. When we had snack time, I remember a couple of classmates came up to my desk: Gabby, George, and Toni. I knew for Gabby and Toni that they were excited to have another girl student in the class because it was just the two of them, and they were not close friends. The three of them spent lunch and recess time with me. I was fortunate to had classmates that cared about me on my first day. The rest of my school year in that school and my first in my town’s school district was amazing overall. Everyone helped me out so much, and I cannot be more thankful!
Due to classroom space issues in Frank J. Dugan Elementary School, my teacher had to move to teach in Robertsville Elementary School. My parents and I decided to move me to that elementary school when I was entering 4th grade, so I could stay with my teacher and the rest of my classmates. Although, I had to adjust to being in a new school again. I only got to see the school around during new student orientation, which was the end of summer of 2007. I did get lost getting to my classroom on the first day in the school, since I did not get a private visit like I did for Dugan. I needed more time to get a sense of my school environment to adjust well, so a private tour of the school would have been better for me at that time.
On the other hand, I was happy to been with my teacher again! My teacher made it easier for me to adapt in the school. She had a visual schedule up in the classroom of our class routine, and reminded me and a couple of classmates when we had to go to our general education class for Science & Social Studies, since I was attending general education classes for Science & Social Studies. I did have an teacher assistant in the classroom for my general education classes to support me; I do want to point out in general that during my elementary school years in my town’s school district, I was in general education classrooms for Science & Social Studies. No matter the classrooms I were in, I had nice classmates who wanted to spend time with me, like at recess, and even help me in class. Fast forward, I graduated from Robertsville Elementary School in 2009. I knew that when graduation came, I was going to miss my teacher so much! She inspired me to do a lot of what I do today, which is working in the education field.
Being a new kid can be hard, but having good people by your side can help you can make it easier to adapt. A good school district that is willing to work with your family is important for a success school year, as well as a good classroom community filled with teachers and classmates who care and support you. I highly recommend schools to allow families to visit the school and their classrooms, to determine if the child will enjoy being in a new learning environment or not. Schools and families need to collaborate together to increase success for the child, even if its as simple as having a private visit to the school and their classrooms.