The Road Ahead (Saying Goodbye To Elementary School) | Organization for Autism Research

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Guest blogger Jessica uses a metaphor about her son’s ability to ride a bike as a way to explain her thoughts on his transition to middle school. This post originally appeared on Jessica’s blog Changed For Good

It’s Monday morning, the last day of winter break.  We are blessed with beautiful weather in Florida.  This is truly the best time of year to be outside.  We’ve just had breakfast and my son is ready for his neighborhood bike ride.  It’s become our routine since Christmas when my husband and I invested in new bikes.  We set off down the driveway.  It’s been awhile since I’ve ridden a bike and it doesn’t take long before my legs start protesting. 

‘My body isn’t as young as it used to be,’ I muse as I watch my son Ben whiz ahead of me down our neighborhood street.

He’s excited because I’m letting him ride in the road and not on the sidewalk, but only because I am with him.  “Remember to stay on the right hand side of the road!” I call out to him.

As I watch his legs pump the pedals faster, I know he’s trying to break his speed record.  He got a speedometer for Christmas.  The digital readout tells him how many miles per hour he’s traveled.  So far his top speed is 18 miles per hour, which he will tell you that he achieved going on the straightaway on Lazy Lane Road.  My son lives in a world of numbers and statistics.  From a very young age he’s wanted to know how far, how fast, and how long it takes to go different distances.  He spends hours studying Google Earth.  One day I glanced over at him while we were relaxing on the couch.  He was measuring the circumference of South America using a tool in the app.  He’d already found the distance of the other 6 continents and he was adding them together as he was going.  Just for fun. 

My son’s speed, combined with my out-of-shape body, causes the distance between us to grow.  He rounds a curve in the neighborhood and is out of sight.  I fight back the momentary fear that grips me whenever I cannot see him and we are out in public.  I put my trust that he will remember the safety rules in case he encounters a car, or a neighbor walking a dog, or person mowing the yard, or sprinkler….

He is nearly 10 years old and I know he is growing up.  I know that these brief moments of independence are so important for him (and, let’s face it, for me).  When I round the curve, I notice him glance over his shoulder to see if I am keeping up.  When he gets to the stop sign he waits at our designated spot.  He knows all of the stops and never forgets.  My son is a rule follower.  Once he understands a rule he never breaks it. 

I tell him to ride on to the neighborhood across the street.  We’re almost to the playground where we always stop so that he can swing (and I can catch my breath on the bench close by).  I breathe a sigh of relief as I coast down the slight hill and park my bike next to his. He’s already taking off his helmet and making his way to the swings.   The playground is empty, just how he likes it.   As he pumps higher and higher, I let my mind drift.  

My son is in fourth grade now but already I’m worrying about middle school.  I’ve already been on one middle school tour.  It’s a private school that I believe will be a perfect match for him, but they are small and don’t have resources for children with special needs. I explained how my son is academically on grade level.  He just needs understanding adults who will give him time and space when he needs it.  Each year he is becoming better at self-regulation.  I feel the need to justify myself because I know that getting into this school isn’t a given.  He has to pass entrance exams and the number of spots of children they take each year are limited.  Why is it so hard to find the right fit (yet again) for my child?  When I was in middle school, there were basically two schools in my small town.  Where you went depended on which side of town you lived in.  Today, there are so many options for school choice.  There are so many options it’s overwhelming

My search for the right elementary school was long and hard enough.  I’m now teaching at his school myself, and it has been such a blessing.  We have parent tours on a nearly daily basis with families just like ours seeking a place where their child will be accepted and learn to love school again.  Each time I see the desperation in that parent’s eyes my heart hurts.  Recently I got a new student and after the first week the parent wrote me the sweetest card.  It said, “Thank you for helping him find his sparkle again.”  Our kids need safe spaces to learn.  They need to be able to work at their pace, to feel accepted by their friends and teachers, and to have fun. And the thought of sending him off to middle school frankly scares the crap out of me.

My mind snaps back to the present as I see his swing slow to a stop.  He’s done.  I never have to tell him to stop swinging.  I’ve always said that he has an internal clock that tells him when the time is up.  He clicks his helmet on his head and asks if we can take Lazy Lane Road to get home.  I know he wants to try to beat his fastest time, but inwardly I groan because that’s another half a mile for my already sore legs to pedal.  But I agree.  I can rarely say no to this boy. 

As we pedal the straight road that will lead us home, I watch as he flies faster and faster.  I bet this will be his best time yet.  Even though the future is uncertain and I will always have my worries, I reflect on how far we have come.  Not long ago, he wouldn’t even get on a bike at all.  He could physically ride a bike, but anxiety took over after he crashed into the middle of the road.  It took years to get him back on a bike. 

Sometimes I forget that the things that he can do today were the very things I was worried years ago that he would never be able to do.  I would stay awake at night worrying if he would ever make friends, play a sport, stay on the carpet during story time, the list goes on and on.  Now he does all of these things and more.   I know our journey going forward won’t be easy, but I know that I have an amazing kid, and I have confidence in him.  We will take each challenge as it comes.


About the Author

My name is Jessica and I am the mom of an amazing seven year old on the Autism Spectrum named Ben.  I have changed both my name and his to protect his privacy. I have been a Literacy Specialist in our school district for the past several years, and, prior to that, was a classroom teacher. I started a blog called Changed for Good in order to offer support to families who are on a similar journey and to help my own family grow in their understanding of autism and its unique impact on our family.  I believe that while Ben’s autism brings challenges to his life, he has also been given certain strengths, which we seek to build upon in order to help him to be the best version of himself that he can be.


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