Where did the time go? How can my son be graduating 5th grade? I know I am not alone in asking these questions that so many parents ask when they realize that their child’s elementary school experience is over. There is no going back. There is no reset or do over button. There was so much going on this school year its like Marley started and ended in a matter of months. I wish I had done more.
I have this thought that beats me up everyday when I look at Marley that T I could have done so much more for him. In March I attended a Transition Fair at Microsoft, to learn about all the services and opportunities there are for young adults with disabilities in Seattle. I learned alot at this fair and came home with a wealth of new knowledge. But I also came home with that thought, that though of failure. Instead of worrying about what caused Marley’s autism why did I not stop and say you know Tracy you need to get the best services for him – do what ever you have to. Stop working – sell your home – go somewhere where he will have the best opportunities for a successful future. Unfortunately I was to overwhelmed with the diagnoses to even think about his future. I wasted so much time. I should have been in Washington years ago. Not that Washington has the top-notch special education experience, quite the contrary in some areas. But the nature of the people, the diversity, the willingness to help attitude, the sense of true community, it is here.
I am almost certain that had I moved to Redmond, and Marley had the opportunity to attend Redmond Elementary school from kindergarten, he would have been closer in line academically and socially with his peers. Now I don’t want to discount the experience my son had with two very wonderful teachers, one in Head Start and one in third grade in Kentucky. The were awesome and went above and beyond to try to teach and help Marley grow. But these teachers were teaching for a district that provided no supports.In my eyes they were 10 years behind even the lowest states in services for those with disabilities. I feel so bad for the families still there fighting the district, just the other day I read another parent is filing suit that the district did not provide their child with F.A.P.E (free and appropriate education). I could have stayed, I could have fought, I could have filed a lawsuit too. It was during my son’s second grade year at the dreaded IEP meeting that I finally got clarity on what I needed to do for my son. See the district had this thing that they created that was an alternative diploma, a certificate of sorts, that they were convincing parents they needed to participate in because it would be beneficial to the children and the schools and somehow this would be the best for our son. Across from me sat evil that day at the IEP meeting, evil with a southern twang telling me, ” well deary it’s not like your son is going to improve and go onto college”. WTF, how dare you tell me what my son’s future entails. How dare you give up on my son educational experience. How dare you set the ceiling so low for my son. I could have knocked that woman out that day. Instead I sat speechless, I felt like someone had taken my ability to speak and stabbed me in the heart all at once. It was in that moment I knew my son would never despite any good teachers intentions be able to reach his full potential in KY. I thought about homeschooling him, but how was I going to do that working a graveyard job. Both Eric and I worked fulltime, sometimes 50 hrs in a week. There would be no time. So all we could do is stay in Lexington and fight to get our son moved to a better school. My husband lead the charge and by that fall we finally got Marley into a better school.
He made some improvements, but still wasn’t reading. Marley spent two wonderful years at that wonderful school were he was loved by all that were trying to teach him. That idea that I should stop working -sell the house – move – would finally become a reality by the time Marley reached the end of his forth grade year. It actually took the economic collapse to help send our family in the right direction. The company I worked for decdided to chage and when the window of opportunity presented itself, I left. No longer dedicating countless hours to someone elses benefit. I now could spend those hours benefiting the most important person in my life, my son. So the house was sold in months and we set off on our moved to Washington. We had no plan, but I had a gut feeling it was the right thing to do. It gave me butterflies to think about this crazy thing I was about to do to my family, but my great-grandmother always told me that the things that scare us the most in life, the things that we are unsure of and give us that strange feeling. ‘ the thing we are meant to do, that’s living……that’s growing.
So luckily I am married to a man with a sense of adventure and spontaneity and off we went. It is crazy to throw caution to the wind like that but I am so glad we did. The changes to my life, my son’s life, my husband’s life have been profound since arriving here. I am now hopeful that there will be many more amazing things happening to us as the years go on. I do have some regrets about not arriving here sooner, but nothing good will come from dwelling on that. I look at the positives as much as I can now. We are here now(positive), Marley is loving Seattle(positive), Marley loves school(positive), I am now doing something that makes me happy,advocating for those with disabilities(positive), my husband loves his job(positive), we have more family time together(positive) and we doing something almost every weekend(super positive). I can’t wait to see whats around the next corner, that is best feeling one can have. That “where will the day take me” feeling is so food for the soul. I feel more alive than ever and I and my family is loving this new change.
So now elementary school for Marley is over. Depressing thought, but I am too busy thinking about what an amazing experience he has had this year. Marley was so very fortunate to have three wonderful and caring teachers not to mention forty-one classmates that helped make it his best year yet. Marley went into 5th grade not reading and thanks to Mr. W and others for encouraging him, he is now reading on a 1st grade reading level. Socially Marley has grown by leaps in bounds. Nothing warms my heart more and brings me more joy than to see my son beaming with happiness everyday I dropped him off and picked him up from school. His teachers and especially his classmates have helped create a little social butterfly. His classmates daily asked me questions about Marley wanting to know more, or letting me know the amazing things he did in class that day. This is the one memory that makes me not feel sad about the elementary school experience being over. I know his classmates will be following him into middle school, looking out for him and continuing to be a friend to him. I could not ask for anything more. For so long I have witnessed my son be a loner, a child different from others, isolated. No other children ever got to know Marley and he had little friends and none out of school. But I don’t have to think about that any more, his classmates love and want the best for him. I can’t wait for what the future holds for all of the them. That idea is so exciting I can’t wait to see them all grow up.
So below is the last few days of Marley’s 5th grade experience. What a truly amazing year he has had!!!
MY ATTEMPT TO BE CREATIVE
So knowing how much this year was special, I wanted to make something special for Marley’s classmates and his teachers. Do you use Pinterest? Well I do, I’m always bookmarking things I find of interest and tons of things that look delicious(but I’ll never cook) and DIY crafts I dream of creating yet I have no creative bone in my body. But I wreck my brain for weeks trying to come up with something and I don’t know if it cause really I am not that creative or it’s just I have too much on my plate. So thank god for Pinterest, you really stepped up to the plate. Below are the finished projects that Marley and I worked on for about two weeks. Smart I made sure we did something everyday so I would not be doing everything at the last-minute. Cause as my world usually goes, I make plans and say oh I have time and then something goes awry. Usually it entails me getting sick, or Marley getting sick. Sadly something did happened, it was a good thing I started two weeks out from graduation.
THE HAPPIEST BOY IN THE WORLD
Wonder why Marley is grinning from ear to ear? Wonder what he is holding in the bag? Well, nothing makes Marley more happy than pencil sharpening. On one of the last days before school was out, Marley had the opportunity to use his class dollars(fake money for turning in and completing assignments) to buy something from the classroom store. His teacher Mrs. Hudspeth informed me after school that there was only one thing Marley wanted to buy…………pencils……..And she knew it and made sure he would have enough to last and sharpen over the summer, hilarious………Good looking out Mrs. H!!!
THE BIG DAY ~ 5TH GRADE PROMOTION (GRADUATION)
Marley cheezin like always
A very nice surprise, Marley receiving the “Mr. Jolly Rancher” award for being the boy who is always happy!!
I wonder if he is really trying to read it?
Nope, this is him turning around and asking me, “What this say?”
SUPER SUPRISE!!!!!!!…………Mr. Unifier
The very special people in Marley’s 5th grade journey. On the far left is Mr. Kim Weirsum. I could write a book on how thankful I am that Marley had him as his Special Education teacher this year. Mr.W, as Marley called him was instrumental in finally coming up with what Marley needed to learn to read. Time – patience – and pictures. At the beginning of the year he had Marley on beginning level Wonderbooks that used pictures along with words, it was the exact key to getting him to start reading.
Here is a short video of the progress marley has made in reading this year…….
Mr. W has done everything possible to ensure that my son gets the best education. He has also been a great source of knowledge on autism for fellow teachers, and gives great advice to parents like myself on different ways to improve the learing experience. Most of all he has been very supportive in knowing how hard it is for us on a daily basis. Test may show my son has an IQ of 32 but he understands that is a test and nothing can correctly measure Marley’s intelligence and learning capabilities. He has been so encouraging to me on my road to advocating for Marley and others. I just wish I could steal him and take him onto middle school. But that is a selfish idea and I know he has many, many more children to make a lasting impression on and I hope that he continues to do so.
The middle pic is Mrs. Mary Hudspeth. Mary, like Mr. W, I could write a novel on my appreciation for all that she has done for my son. From the start of the school year, when I heard from another parent that their child wanted to know more about Marley because she took it upon herself to read to the class a book that would give them all more insight to this different student that was in their classroom. WOW!! She also spearheaded a “peer buddy” program for Marley in her classroom. Making sure that other students would help Marley and get to know him more. Actually here and Mrs. Huntley have done something I am unsure they can even fathom will have a lasting effect on not only Marley but his classroom peers. These students as Mrs. Hudspeth said in the video above, came into the school year kind of all over the place and looking out for self. The journey they have shared with Marley has helped these young future men and women lay the foundation for caring and compassion of others. You can’t ask for anything more. I know academics are important, but to shape young children with the abilities to see others will help change this world. We always hear of school shootings and bullying, but if the teachers were as compassionate as the two Mrs. H’s, this would not be an issue. That is one of the greatest things to teach and my son is so fortunate that he spent his last year in elementary school with Mrs. Hudspeth.
And last but not least I have to mention Marley’s other not official classroom teacher, Mrs. Huntley. See pic on far right. See fifth graders at Redmond Elementary school actually shared two teachers. Their classroom separated only by a folding divider. Mrs H was equally integral in the teaching of my son this year. I enjoyed most hearing from my son after school field trips about Mrs Huntley. He would say in a few words…”Mrs. Huntley, shes hilarious, she so funny”. I got it, I totally understand why he was saying that. One of my first impressions at a parents night was that she was a woman with a heart full of gold. Now to any other parent she might come across as blunt and if I was a kid in her classroom back in the day I probably would have been scared shitless. But I also saw that she wanted the best for her students and she would push them harder than they might think they could go. She looked like one of those teachers that don’t play around. But I thought she was hilariously funny in her stern way of thinking. I loved her sense of humour and that’s why I could totally understand why Marley had that same vibe!!!
A couple of shots out in front of school.
A couple of close up shots of Marley’s awards
Then came the sad day of the last day of 5th grade
Marley Ii had to snap a pick of Marley with his best friend Ariannna. She has so much love for Marley and has been Marley’s number one classmate support this year. I am so thankful he has a good friend that will continue on with him through middle school.
and last but not least is the shot of Mrs H and Mrs Dennis, who I know helped Marley everyday at school. Some of the kindest women you will ever meet, the students of Redmond Elementary are so fortunate to have them. I will truly miss the conversation with them after school about something Marley did, they will be truly missed.
Lastly I wanted to share the thing that brought me the most joy. I was most delighted to see my son’s yearbook when he came home from school on the last day of school. This was Marley first yearbook, none of the schools in KY really did this in elementary school, so to have this memento it means so much to me. It also means alot to Marley who, already five days out from the last day of school is missing his friends. I will have to take a picture of what Marley does at night when he is in his room. He likes to pile things on his bed that bring him happiness. Every night it is usually the same items, his favorite books, his classroom picture, his picture of his friend Arianna, his various stuffed animals, and now his yearbook. I know it must bring him comfort to look at those pictures, he likes sitting with me and I will ask him who this person is or who that person is and all the while he is grinning from ear to ear.
But the best thing of all was seeing my son’s pic alongside his classmates in the individual classroom pics. I was afraid that he would not be. I feared that he might be left out. For I know this has happen to many other parents of autistic children. They are often left out and if included in a yearbook pic, they are pictured with their Special Education / Resource Room classmates, which to me is defining them by their disabilities. Autism can be a very isolating disability and I don’t want that for my son. I feared that for a long time. But not anymore. Marley may not excel academically but he excels in bringing happiness to others.Marley has this profound affect on people. He has a contagious happy personality, gives the best hugs in the world, and just wants to share the way he sees things with everyone he meets. There is no doubt in my mind that this skill will help him go far and I can’t wait to see him flourish!!!