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Piece by Piece: Surviving School's Social Moments

One of my biggest worries as Peter starts a new school year is how will he deal with the social minefields. All children struggle from time to time, but children with autistic spectrum disorders start steps behind the rest socially. They struggle to read others’ social cues. They find eye contact difficult, sometimes even painful. They often fear the games or toys that help other children interact with each other.

Peter is in a wonderful program for children on the spectrum in the Lakeland School District but mainstreams for some of his classes. When we are in town, we often see someone from one of his “big” classes. They always say hi to him and Peter gets shy — covers his ears, looks away. Seeing a school person outside of school startles him like it would a kindergartner.

I have been telling Peter for more than a week that he will be a fifth-grader now — he rules the school! I know this is a good year to start to be more social before the truly worrisome middle school years begin. My message must have been clear. Peter was dressed and ready for the bus. When I said we should go outside Peter told me, “Mom, I should go out to the bus alone. I'm a big fifth-grader now."

I persuaded Peter to let me go outside to take our traditional first day of school picture. Then I was able to wait outside with my third-grader Kit, whose bus would not be far behind.

As Peter’s bus rolled to a stop, the doors opened and everyone shouted, “Peter!” It was like a first day of school version of the '80s sitcom "Cheers." Peter bounded to the bus as his driver and aide welcomed him back. It took my breath away.

My 5-foot, 2-inch son looked so confident, so different from the little curly-topped boy who wept for nearly two weeks as a preschooler each time I put him on the bus. On Day 2 I was reminded that I must stay in the house. Fifth grade is definitely going to be a learning experience for both of us — we’ll have to put it together, piece by piece.

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