It’s quiet in my house right now. Like eerily quiet. The only sound I hear is the tick, tick, tick of the clock. All the children are off at school and I am home alone for the first time in seven months. I cannot help but feel a little out of place. And so I think and I wonder if I’ve done everything the right way and in the right time. With each tick of the clock I wonder what is happening three miles down the road. With each tick of the clock I count the mistakes that have been made along the way. I cannot help but hope that one wrong turn has led us to where we need to be. As the clock ticks, I think back to nine months ago when we made every decision but the right ones.
Call it divine Providence, call it what you will, but last November my family made the cross-country move from central Illinois to central Florida. We traded seas of corn and beans for the never-ending horizon of the Atlantic. We left what we knew for what we didn’t. We said goodbye to the comfort of old friends and therapists and teachers and said an awkward hello to new neighbors and therapists and teachers. All that we thought we knew had evaporated when we crossed the state line. The rules and regulations and regularity of autism in the Midwest didn’t seem to apply anymore. We were left adrift despite a geographical residence 5 miles inland from the sea.
In one transition we did just about every single thing that you shouldn’t. We were the classic textbook of ‘whatever you do,don’t do this.’
IEP meetings are never easy. They are especially difficult, though, when you’ve learned one system’s ins and outs and begin in another where the most common phrase uttered at the table is, ‘We don’t do that here.’ For me, IEP meetings are not just discussions about some educational plan—they are life itself. One wrong move and a child heads down another path, towards a future that is a mere shadow of what it could’ve been.
IEP meetings are not just statistics and lines of goals, benchmarks and accommodations—they are the foundations of independence and autonomy. It is the very nature of freedom—freedom to choose the direction and course of one’s life. It is the difference between someone telling you what to eat and what to do and where to go and a life of your own. At the end of our very first Sunshine State IEP, my husband and I felt anything but sunny. The unease between us was palpable but we thought meeting halfway was better than none at all. So despite the fears and tears we took our son to a new school just two days later. It did not begin well and it did not end well.
By December, my stress level had reached an insomniac laced, multiple Tums an hour, edge of my seat, breath in my throat type of panic. My Christmas present to myself last year was to stop the madness and just say no to everything we had said yes to a few weeks earlier. I was done with meeting halfway when halfway was somewhere south of nowhere. We had enough of the wrong turns and decided to navigate the ship ourselves. By January, we were homeschooling and the stress level had gone from national debt level to the range of negative numbers.
Homeschooling was neither easy nor completely carefree, but it was exactly what the doctor ordered. My muscles unknotted and my blood pressure slowly crept down from the stroke-out range. My boys left the stress of a busy classroom for just a little while, and found pleasure in the joy of intellectual curiosity. They were learning simply for the sake of learning. Time seemed to move at a slower pace and, for once, we could all just breathe without struggling. In my son’s out of control life, he could control just about everything and learned more about himself than he had in the eight years before. Sometimes all we need is time—time away from the rush and hectic pace set by someone else. It was the break that we all needed right when we needed it.
Now it is August and school has started again. We decided to try our hand at school once more at a new building. We have taken yet another leap of faith. Yet the feeling this time around is less wrong turn and more like finding home. I can’t say that it will be perfect and I can’t say we won’t ever disagree with the direction of my son’s life. But I can say that sometimes you just know when something is right, and this feels right to me. With each tick of the clock this morning, I find that I am not holding my breath anymore. I am breathing in synchronicity with time itself content with the path before us.