In Praise of Progress

Victoria Tkachuk by Victoria Tkachuk

Victoria Tkachuk

Victoria Tkachuk

I'm from the Midwest region of the United States and I have four children, three neurotypical daughters and one son with dyskinetic cerebral palsy....

In Praise of Progress

Surprise! Change can actually be good.

Another school year is in full swing in our household. I now have a fifth and second grader, a kindergartner, and a preschooler. Three of my kids are at the same school, and my special needs son is at a different school that offers the services he requires. This was not my initial choice, but circumstances beyond my control necessitated this decision.

Can I confess that I was so anxious about my son being in a different school than his sisters? We had talked extensively about how great it would be for them all to be in the same place every day, how they would pass each other in the hallway and such. For me, I felt comfort in thinking my son would have a built-in support system in them. He would have at least three advocates among his peers, and this both warmed my heart and eased my worries.

Imagine the disappointment when I realized he would spend his days elsewhere, without his siblings.

Now, the school he attends is a good one; the staff is fully stocked with special education caseworkers, therapists, and paraprofessionals. His teacher is enthusiastic, and his classmates seem very sweet and inclusive-minded. No doubt they're encouraged to engage with my son by their teachers, which is fantastic.

And yet, my heart sank when I committed to him attending that school. Why? The objective facts – the proximity of the school to home, the dedicated staff, the small class size, etc. – weren't the problem. My mixed emotions were. I was worried about how he would fit in, I was nervous about him making friends (or even being willing to socialize with his peers, something he's struggled with in the past.

Maybe I can't help worrying because I'm his mom. Maybe it's because I know where his verbal skills have hindered him in this kind of setting. Maybe I've set too high a bar for his educators. Maybe I have a hard time seeing him do things independently (meaning, without me).

But maybe I should learn to trust my own kid a little bit more.

When I explained to my son why he'd be attending the other school, he was quiet but listened intently. I told him I was sorry he wouldn't be with his sisters, but hopefully, he'd recognize some teachers or kids from his preschool class, or make some new friends. I assured him he'd learn lots of interesting things, have help with reading (he wants to learn so badly), and get to eat hot lunch. He grinned so big at that last revelation.

On his first day of school, my stomach was in knots. I dropped him off, spent way too much time explaining what was in his backpack to his para, and watched sadly as he went inside. As soon as I got in the car the tears started falling.

However, on his return later that day, I greeted him at the bus with a smile. I was determined to put a positive spin on whatever difficulty he had encountered. But the strangest, most unexpected thing happened when I asked him how it was. He simply said it was good. The teacher is nice. There is a kid at his table who also likes Batman. He got to have two snacks. And yes, he ate everything offered for hot lunch.

Turns out, there were no difficulties for me to positively spin. There were no rude questions or comments from peers to email the teacher about. My son had a pretty normal, fun day in kindergarten. I felt a little silly for having worried so much. This was a big change for both of us but like my son said, it was good. The change was good.


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