You guys. YOU GUYS. Nate is an official Kindergarten kid. And let me tell you: he’s rocking Kindergarten.
Nate is a contained autism classroom in a K-2 program. This means his room includes all three grades. Perfectly enough, there are three kids in Nate’s room (including Nate) with one kid enrolled in each grade level. There’s a lead therapist, Mrs. Linda, and two paras, Ms. Lauren and Mrs. Jean. Nate also has daily speech therapy with Mrs. Shannon, weekly occupational therapy with Mrs. Denise, and monthly physical therapy with Mr. Mike (Nate’s first male therapist ever!!!) plus oversight from his behavior analyst, Mrs. Cathie, who also happens to be Ms. Lauren’s mom!
To prepare Nate for Kindergarten, we talked a lot about his new school and new teachers. Nate knew his classmates from Ms. Susie’s room so we just talked about rekindling friendships with J and S, too. Over the summer, Chad and I took Nate to his new school’s playground to get familiar with the area in a positive way. Nate did fine on the playground as long as no one else was around; if another kid showed up, Nate usually asked to go home.
Our start at Nate’s school was a little rocky. The PTA hosted a get-to-know-you event for incoming Kindergarten students and we received an invitation via email from the school’s principal. The event boasted that kids would get to know their classmates, meet their teachers, and enjoy snacks on the playground.
When we showed up, there wasn’t a teacher in sight. There was a table, surrounded by a crowd, in the corner that had both snacks on it and the registration folks. We patiently waited in line and, when it was our turn, we told them Nate was in Ms. Linda’s class. The PTA? They had no clue who Ms. Linda was; someone actually asked us if she was a substitute teacher. When I explained that Nate was in the autism program, they froze. See, kids were getting name labels that were color coordinated to their classrooms; if your label was in green ink, then you should look for other green ink labels to meet your classmates. But Nate? He is the only kindergarten student in his class–and they didn’t have a color for his awesome room. I gently requested that they make Nate a rainbow label with each letter in a different color and they happily obliged. I slapped the label on Nate’s back and off we went to play on the playground.
Except Nate didn’t want to play.
Instead, we hung out by ourselves behind this picnic table, counting wood chips. After about ten minutes, we decided to leave. I emailed Ms. Linda about the event; turns out no one bothered to tell her about it! She was on site but in meetings. But don’t worry, dear friends! For that’s the only bump in the road we’ve had with school.
Nate loves Kindergarten. He cannot get into the school door fast enough every morning. Every afternoon, I open his backpack to find incredible treasures: story books he made, paintings and drawings, printed photos of his daily adventures, and, one time, a certificate of awesomeness!
In addition to being in Ms. Linda’s class, Nate is assigned to a neurotypical Kindergarten classroom with whom he attends daily “specials”–art (twice a week!), library (which they call media though I can’t bring myself to saying that), music, and gym class. Like last year with Ms. Susie, Nate loves art and tolerates (at best) the rest. He also goes on field trips with his assigned neurotypical classroom. A few weeks ago, Nate boarded a big bus (not the short one!) with sixty (!!!) of his peers and, with Ms. Lauren by his side, visited a farm to learn about growing and harvesting apples and pumpkins. Nate came home with a pumpkin and an apple of his own, a coloring book, and a piece of paper about his adventure.
We are, however, experiencing our fair share of challenges. When school started, it somehow triggered a minor flareup of Occupy Kitchen, which I was able to tamp out pretty quickly. Pretty much since day one, Nate’s been hoarding things to and from school. When we leave, he tries to gather as many toys and items as possible and carry them to the car, which he tries to take to school. While this has happened in Susie’s room, the reverse–gathering up classroom toys to take home–did not…but it is happening in Ms. Linda’s room. Together, we decided on a one-toy rule–Nate can bring one toy into school and take one home every day, though he’s pushed the limits on that. Often, Nate brings home multiple “scoops” of ice cream, stacked together into “one” item, which Ms. Linda kindly permits.
Nate has also stopped eating and drinking water at school. When he was with Ms. Susie, Nate couldn’t eat enough! One day while grocery shopping, I was told that the lunch ladies had nicknamed Nate “the boy who loves hummus” because he ate it every day. Now? Not so much. It’s dwindled down to sending in carb-loaded snacks (veggie stick chips, popcorn, raisin bread, and pretzels) and two apples a day, and most everything comes back untouched. At his height in Susie’s room, Nate drank 1.5 big bottles of water a day ; now I’m lucky if he’s even opened his water bottle.
We’re not sure why the change happened but it’s been pretty consistent since the start of school. His therapists have figured out that Nate will drink some water if it’s from the water fountain. And we started buying Nate hot lunch at school to give him an even greater variety of food to choose from. Most of the menu items don’t agree with Nate’s palate but some do–Nate ate all of the rigatoni that didn’t have sauce on it (or wasn’t touching a meatball) on Monday and ate all his pancakes on Tuesday. To entice him to drink water at school, I bought some Kool-Aid drops in hopes that he might think it’s a melted Italian ice. (My whole wish of raising a child on organic foods with natural dye has completely been thrown out the window….)
These things are minor compared to the awesome fireworks that are going off in Nate’s mind. The year started with tackling Nate’s identification of numbers by name. We know he can order numbers (lots of numbers) but he couldn’t identify individual numbers when asked. Ms. Linda started with 1-20 and quickly moved up to 1-25. I’m not certain that Nate’s identifying the numbers by name yet but he loves this exercise, so much so that it’s moved from being a task to a reward for a job well done on something else. A strip of perfectly ordered numbers comes home in Nate’s folder every day.
Nate also has a hard time sitting through story time at school. So Ms. Linda carefully created activities to help keep Nate engaged in the tale. For instance, this week they read If You Give a Pig a Pancake. Nate made an accompanying book called If You Give a Horse a Hamburger as they read the tale. Many books like this have come home. Some are copies of the books and some are activity strips. Our magnet board is running out of room!
In addition to autism-related stuff, Nate follows the regular Kindergarten curriculum. This includes color identification; one of these worksheets comes home every day, too, which shows that Nate’s learning to read the color name and then match it with the right crayon. (My kid is brilliant!!!)
Nate’s also starting to learn to use adjectives in speech therapy. Requesting the “blue crayon” is no longer acceptable; Nate must ask for the “big blue crayon” or the “little blue crayon” in order to get what he wants. It seems that Nate’s quite advanced on the iPad, regularly creating five word sentences that blow all of his therapists away. So it’s now time to push him even further to help make Nate as articulate as possible.
Nate also gets to do things that make him the envy of his neurotypical peers. For instance, for one of Nate’s many sensory breaks throughout the day, he can choose to ride a tricycle up and down the hallways of the school. While we own three trikes and Nate can’t make any of them go, this is a special adaptive tricycle. It has a seat belt at Nate’s chest level, straps for Nate’s feet, and the handlebar is one giant bar instead of two handles. These things apparently free his mind up to get those pedals going. It’s a thing of wonder to watch Nate beam as he cruises in the hallway.
So, all this to say: Nate loves Kindergarten and he is a Boy Genius.