When my son was 18 months old I enrolled him in a Mother's Day Out program. It was 2 days a week a few hours each day. At this point in my son's short life, the word autism had not even crossed my mind. He was my first and only child. I knew he cried often, I knew he didn't sleep well and had very strange sleep patterns no matter how consistent I was with his schedule. I knew he didn't really point at things or imitate others, and didn't really say any words. But, he's just a little behind, he's just a boy, boys are slower, people said, and I believed them. So, off he went to his first day of Mother’s Day Out. I found the room he would be in, and met the teacher and aide. When I was leaving, he was crying, which I knew he would. Just leave, they all cry, he'll be fine in a few minutes, I told myself. So, I left him there. It was summertime. I am a teacher, so I was off of work. I felt like a free woman. I had so many plans of how I would spend my few hours of leisure a week. Then, an hour later they called. My heart sank, was he ok? Yes, he's ok the director of the school told me, but he is very distressed and won't stop crying. We think you should come and pick him up.
As I rushed over to the school, I thought about the rough night we had before, hardly any sleep. But, this was nothing new we hardly ever slept through the night. When I got there, I went to the classroom that I had dropped him off in. The teacher that had been so nice and grandmotherly, just an hour before looked at me with the utmost disgust and said " Oh no, he's not in here anymore! We had to move him to a different room! He was SO mean to my babies!" She spat it out with such hatred, that I was taken aback. I'm sure this woman did not mean to make me feel like the scum of the earth, but she did. I felt like she kicked me in the stomach, then punched me in the face. As I walked down the hallway to the directors office, I saw other teachers looking at me giving me the "what a horrible mother, I wonder what happens at her house" kind of look.
When I walked into the director's office, there he was, red in the face, sobbing, and sitting on the floor with no shoes on. He had kicked them off in his frustration. Needless to say I lost it. The tears fell faster than I could help it. In that moment, I knew. I knew that everything I thought about my life and my son’s life would be different than I expected. I knew that this wasn’t going to be easy and we were going to have to work harder than others in every way.
The director was actually a nice person. She assured me that it was alright and maybe it was just because it was his first day. Between my tears and embarrassing sobs, I told her that he had never stayed with anyone else besides his grandparents and maybe he just wasn’t ready for this. I left thinking I would never go back. Over the weekend, the director called to check on us. She said we should try again and said he would be moved to a different room with kids a little older. I had already paid for the month and damn it that one hour of freedom was just too good. So, I brought him back the next week. I wish I could say that it turned out to be this great experience, but it wasn’t. I never felt the love from his new teachers either. They barely spoke to me, except to ask me to pick him up early because he was a disturbance to the other children during naptime. That was fine, I understood so I did it.
Why am I writing about this? Well for one, I still drive by that place and have an anxiety attack and I thought this would be good closure therapy. :) Secondly, people always ask me how I knew my son had autism. Well, this was one of those moments. Not that I knew that day that it was autism, but I knew that something was different. Thirdly, I like to look back at this and realize how far he has come. He loves to go to school now, and since the mother’s day out incident, we have been fortunate to work with awesome caregivers and teachers that love him, and are just wonderful people. Fourthly, I am not an angel, I have judged people when I knew nothing about them, just like we all have. But, this taught me not to be so judgmental of others and to try to always speak to people with kindness and respect, especially when it comes to their children. Just food for thought…