Graduation day

Harrison and his friend Mara on the class field trip the day before graduation from Custer County Preschool. Photo by Monica Backsen.
Harrison and his friend Mara on the class field trip the day before graduation from Custer County Preschool. Photo by Karen Gorley.

This is a sad tale. But I managed to live through it so I’m sure you, dear reader, can endure this little glimpse of the beast we call autism, and how it affects not only children, but also their parents, educators and, really, all those around them. Like an entire class of preschool kids and their families, for example.

The other day was the “graduation” ceremony at my son’s preschool. The kids rehearsed a couple of days before the event and made little graduation mortarboard hats as a craft activity.

Early in the ceremony I could already see that Harrison was having a difficult time sitting still. But Karen, the paraprofessional assigned to him, was managing to keep him in his seat. When the other children sang a song, he sang along with them — and without them — and also broke into other songs altogether.

Then the children filed out for the procession. As they shuffled back to their seats with their hats, it was clear that Harrison had somehow broken the mortarboard part away from the band and Karen was trying to put it back together.

I was still hopeful and turned on my camera for the big moment. Certainly Karen would have to accompany him to the podium to get his “diploma” but I was ready to get the momentous photo. But Harrison began to get more unruly and loud. We laughed nervously but it made us uncomfortable. I wondered how many of the other parents were even more uncomfortable than we were.

Finally he slipped away from Karen and headed for the audience looking for his mom. Mary held him for a while but his outbursts became more disruptive and so she finally carried him outside.

I sat. I didn’t want to cause more disruption, and I was hoping that perhaps Mary would at some point bring him back inside.

I learned early in life that when your last name begins with “W” you always get to bring up the rear of things, and of course his name was the last to be called. The teachers looked around the room and then at me. The other parents were silent. All I wanted to do was take a picture, like the other parents did, of my kid getting his preschool diploma. But now I had to speak out to a quiet room full of people.

“He was being disruptive so she took him” was the only thing that came to mind. I turned my camera off and sat quietly as the ceremony ended.

Meanwhile, outside, there was a very upset little boy who really didn’t understand why he had been removed from the ceremony, and an upset mom trying to come to terms with why her child sometimes behaves like this.

The day-to-day challenges posed by autism are invisible to most people. In fact, often when I mention to people that my son has autism I get a blank stare, or the question, “What exactly does that mean?”

As ridiculous as it sounds, that’s actually a really great question.

What it means is that often things don’t turn out like you think they will. It means that you learn to live with that fact. And it means that you move on and hope for a better day.

Diploma or no, he’s off to kindergarten.

4 thoughts on “Graduation day

  1. “What it means…” sure sounds like good advice for everyone, kids or no kids, special needs or not, and on sunny days as well as torrential downpours, be they meteorological or metaphorical.

  2. I ‘m sorry that Harrison found the event to be too much stimulation — but on the other hand, does preschool need a graduation ceremony? Wouldn’t many kids be either bored to death or over-hyped to some degree?

    1. Chas, that’s an interesting point and I wondered the same. I never went to preschool, nor to kindergarten, except when I started 1st grade and they sent me back for a few days to learn my ABCs. So I don’t remember fidgeting though any graduation ceremonies until high school. And while Harrison has difficulty sitting through such a ceremony, he can name the authors of five books, which is more than I can say for some adults.

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