The first day of school

Early in August, the teacher received a call from several of her parents. Many of them wanted to know when school was starting. That included Maria.

Her son Charlie had been in the teacher’s class for the last three years. He was about to start fourth grade. Charlie was boy who had classic autism. He also had incredible energy. In fact, Charlie was like the Ever Ready Bunny on steroids.

For many parent, summer time becomes a major challenge for parents. That was true for Maria, too. During the summer, general education children often have enrichment programs to help them catch up with their peers if they have fallen behind. That is not the case for many of the special education children.

Unfortunately, most children with special needs no longer qualify for summer school. Several years ago, the majority of these children would continue their education throughout much of the summer.

Those services have changed. Now, it is very difficult to receive those same services. In a perfect world, these very special children would continue their education during June, July and August.

Though educational growth may be slower for these students, a summer program gave them, especially the elementary school students, more time to grow academically at their own pace. That way, they did not need several weeks to catch up to where they left off in June.

Charlie, like all of the teacher’s students, did not go to school during the summer. He was ready, though he may not have thought so.

His family was ready for him to start school again, too.

While talking to the teacher, Maria called out to him to come say hi to the teacher. Not too surprisingly, his response was, “No, no school.”

Mom certainly was ready as were his older sibling. Charlie, however, had enjoyed the long months of lots of television, computer games and play time. Yet, the fact was that Charlie really did best with a tight structured schedule. Even is Charlie wasn’t ready for school, his mom certainly was.

When the day finally arrived for school, Charlie’s mom had already placed his clothes on the bed the night before. Charlie understood well what was coming. Maria had prepared the boy for the change by talking about it both visually and orally during the previous few weeks.

Finally, the magic day came. The boy arrived in a special education bus. As soon as Charlie came off the bus, he was back in form. The child went straight to his daily schedule in the room and moved the first icon to show that it was time for breakfast.

Charlie looked at the staff with a big grin on his face. He knew how to drive the staff a bit silly but Charlie also knew how much they liked him. The boy was clever and funny and yes quite smart. His autism rather than being a problem was a gift. Charlie helped others, especially adults become better people.

The child was special all right, a special beautiful and capable little boy. Charlie was more than ready for another new school year as was his mom and the teacher.

Pamela Gross Downing, a special education teacher can be reached at