I used to care—my husband and I used to care about that more than anything else in the world. But once again, our son has forced us to look at the world in a more nuanced way. He simply cannot be the success story of the boy who overcame autism, and we simply cannot blindly continue to demand that of him.
But anyone who knows my son understands that there is little sadness in this. The same autism that threatened his ability to speak and make friends when he was three now plants a home run smile on his face when he jumps out of bed every morning at 6 am to check the Mets score. Honestly, I don’t know anymore where Brooks ends and autism begins. I only know how easy he is to love. And I suspect that that quality, in and of itself, is more predictive of success in life than any standardized intelligence test.
Nothing else is easy, though; especially school. Our local public school and its NEST program will continue to accept Brooks in September even though we’ve all agreed they cannot meet his educational needs, and a publicly-funded private school that is appropriate cannot yet accept him as they are still waiting on Department of Education funding.
I suppose I should be grateful that he’s not enrolled in one of the many NYC charter schools, given this week’s New York Times coverage of their questionable special education practices. I don’t doubt Ms. Sprowal’s story: I recently came across a job posting for a charter special education teacher that openly states “our goal is to graduate our scholars out of services as quickly as possible.” Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer goals that encourage students to realize their individual potential as opposed to ones that try to reshape children to serve cold, hard, data-driven models. Brooks is unable to learn in a typical classroom for a variety of reasons, none of which can be fundamentally changed by the magic wand of a charter school. What my son requires in order to learn is a very different environment, and it has been an exhausting process this past year seeking out schools that understand this.
We took a well-deserved break this past July 4th long weekend; the three of us dedicated ourselves to simply “hanging out.” During one of our relaxing brunches, we were talking about our lives before we had Brooks. In his quest to make sense of the phrase “before you were born,” Brooks asked me: “When you and Daddy were thinking about having me, were you thinking about me or somebody else?”
I answered swiftly and truthfully that we were only ever thinking about him.