Sending My Son To A Special Needs School

I don’t remember what the weather was like that night or what day of the week it was. In fact, all the background noise has been washed away from the story of that evening. The only things that remain are the important parts and the only thing I knew for sure was that my son was going into an autism preschool. This was the orientation. 

To say I was in a haze would be putting it mildly. This, for me, was the final piece to fall from a secret puzzle I had been precariously trying to keep together with one hand. After years of waiting for his first word, I was putting Lucas into a special school. I had failed him. 

Harsh? Yes. True in my brain at the time? Very. This was important to me. It hurt and it was the worst-case scenario that everyone had warned about. This was the time that I had to admit something I could no longer hide his issues from other people…and from myself. We had reached the final boss and he blew us away with a fireball. Our princess was in another castle.  

I remember walking through the school hallway and seeing big posters of smiling families, all with special needs children. It was so bizarre to me as they were living the life that I was dreading. The years that laid ahead of me were going to be worse and worse. I could feel it. As I stopped to stare, I heard a mom remark to her husband in a raised whisper: 

I will never be OK with this.  

Trying to hold it together, I was affected deeply by her words. Would I ever be able to handle this? What even is this? No one could say. 

lucas minion ipad

Even as he was entering the school, doctors were still trying to tap dance around expectations. They would claim that anything could happen. He could talk tomorrow. When tomorrow came and he didn’t talk, there was always the next day. We have had over 3000 next days since then and there are still no words. Back then, though, I thought it would come at any time. 

When we entered the auditorium, the tables all had tissue boxes on them. So for those who hadn’t thought about crying, this was the reminder. Go for it.

I didn’t cry. I rarely cry. In hindsight, I wish I could have. In so many avenues of my life, I wish I could. Yet, it’s reserved for major occasions. It’s rare that I shed a tear, almost exclusively reserved for death, and rarer that anyone ever sees it. 

I saw tons of other people crying that day, though. The first part of the presentation went right through my brain as I was obsessed with trying to figure out where I knew one of the moms sitting at the table from. I knew that staring would send the wrong message, so I kept sneaking glances and going through deleted files in my mind. Her face was a distant memory in the back of my head and, like a TV star who you know you saw elsewhere, she became the thing that took my attention away from the somber meeting. If only there was an IMDB for people. 

By the time I realized she was a woman I worked with for three weeks a decade earlier, the presentation had turned to parental story time. It was then that we met a proud dad. 

Smiling big and talking about his son, the man told us the following story. He went into it with more jovial enthusiasm than I had seen recently in my miserable haze-filled life.  

My son never said a word. Nothing. We worried about him, much like so many here. So we sent him to the school and then, one day, I was in his room and I sneezed. Suddenly, I heard a tiny little voice say, “bless you!” 

There were audible gasps, as one might imagine. A murmur broke out in the crowd and even my own ears perked up. It was a major thing. I would sell a kidney for a “bless you” from my son. This was great news…until I looked into his face. 

This dad went from overly happy to overly terrified. His eyes widened as he looked around the room with a sense of dread. Having written about pro wrestling for years, I knew what had happened. His comments were, as they say, “a work.” His boy hadn’t really said “bless you”, but something similar enough that it made him happy. Much as I had awkwardly once tried to convince the administrator that my child spoke, he had gotten caught up in his own hype. In the words of Hulk Hogan, he worked himself into a shoot.  

The questions followed: 

Does he talk now? 

No, he doesn’t talk. 

Did he say it again? 

No, he didn’t say it again. 

With each question, the mood dropped a bit more. There were disappointed sighs and people sadly saying, “Oh.” The Dad’s face fell each time and, by the end, he looked as miserable as we were. Poor guy didn’t even have tissues on his table. 

back to school

We sent Lucas there anyway and, by the time he left, there were no words or bless yous. We had hoped for them, but it wasn’t a deal breaker that they never arrived. He wasn’t there with the guarantee of language. He was there because that’s where he belonged.  

Now, as my little fellow embarks on the next stages of his education, I try to remember that bless-you-dad. I think about how proud he was of his son over his results, even though they weren’t the textbook advancements that all of the crying hopefuls in the crowd had hoped for. Whatever that boy said was enough to make him proud. The only mistake was trying to oversell it to a parade of eager parents. 

Will the next school my son goes to teach him language? Hopefully. Am I sending him there for that? Not really. Am I failing him? Absolutely not. It’s about putting him where he should be and doing the best I can to make sure he’s happy. That’s the job of any parent. If I succeed in that, he won’t even have to say it. I know I’m blessed. 



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