Connor was three years old. Five months had disappeared since the diagnosis of autism. Preschool programs had no openings mid-year. After many visits, a program was found forty-five minutes away. The teacher allowed me to hover while my boy left me for the first time. I drove him to school each morning while Spencer wailed in his car seat. Though far from ideal, I felt the situation more appropriate than sending Connor on a shared bus ride with six other special needs preschoolers on a ninety minute bus ride. Spencer learned early to make sacrifices.
Connor’s paperwork recommended a full day of special education preschool, but I was too stubborn. I requested a half-day only, and a private bus drove him directly home to me at noon. I doubted I was capable of being the solution to my son’s problems. We went through the motions that Spring. Spencer crying in the car, followed by several blissful hours spent enjoying his company without the constant interruption of an autistic sibling. Joy mingled with guilt were followed by a bus driver dropping off an adorably exasperating Connor.
Some days I left Spencer with his father and observed Connor in his class behind a partition I was silent behind. I bit my lip to the point of bleeding as he misbehaved among typical peers and demanded the attention of a frazzled, well-meaning teacher.
I was just learning to view my first son the way his disability demanded. I cried after visiting schools that were opposite from what I had imagined. Places where time-out rooms replaced circle time, and learning to sit without aggression for ten minutes was valued as a goal to reach for. I usually held it together until I made it to the parking lot where I would crouch under the steering wheel and cry.
Connor exited the bus at noon for the last time that year. His “Thomas The Tank Engine” backpack was filled with the remnants of his first school experience. In the middle of the stack was a laminated card which served to identify Connor on the bus ride home.
A photo of him sitting on the bottom step of the bus was sealed on purple construction paper. He was wearing overalls and a fisherman’s hat. Blue eyes pierced under platinum hair with a smirk completing the devilish look. The driver had printed in black marker. Autistic. And this warning to any substitute driver who drove him home:
“No Fear. May Flee.”
For the first time in several years, I laughed. Then I decided to write a book someday.