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I walked into Target for a little retail therapy. It had been a week. We are preparing to send our second son to college, my youngest is autistic and has been out of school all week. The lack of school changed his routine, and by Friday, we were struggling with emotional breakdowns. By Saturday, any request to do things was causing anxiety and with the anxiety came anger and frustration. I guess you could say that emotions were running high.

I am the nervous system in our house. My level of calm or anxiety guides the emotions of my youngest son and from there the entire household. My nerves were frayed, so I lost my calm. I yelled and raised my voice. I pushed for him to cooperate and go out for a car ride so we could run an errand. This led to more anxiety and more yelling. That led to throwing things and pinching. I finally had had enough. So my yelling was the final wave that crashed.

After almost two hours, we all settled back down. Then he said, “Mommy, let’s go, you want to go.” And we did. We stepped out to grab dinner and came back exhausted. Both of us went straight to bed, defeated and sad.

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Sunday morning rolled around and we reset. I followed my favorite routine, yoga, devotional, online church . . . then I went to get my nails done and stopped at Target to grab odds and ends. That’s when I broke.

The strain of the week got to me like it hadn’t gotten to me in years. I was walking the aisles when I noticed two girls giggling and carrying on about new school supplies. Their moms chatting and comparing tryout dates on their calendars. The girls were excited about new clothes and the backpack they had chosen to attend sixth grade this fall. I walked past with a smile and frayed nerves and paid for my purchases. 

Then I broke down in ugly sobs in my car. The floodgates had opened. My son Liam is 11 years old. He will be in sixth grade this fall. He has autism and attends a specialized autism and behavior program at a school outside of our district. He was placed there by the district because they could not service his needs within the district.

He won’t be picking out fun school supplies this summer, he won’t get to buy new shoes or T-shirts to flirt with middle school girls. He won’t even get to try out for the band or the soccer team. He will board a bus on the first day of school and go to his every day school with 1:1 support that helps him get through the school day. He will learn to read at a second-grade level and work on skills to help him cope when a change in schedule increases his anxiety.

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So, Target broke me today. But we are blessed to know that with all the middle school milestones missed, he will continue to grow in his school setting. He will have the right support and services to help him someday make it to high school. My dream is that he may get to attend high school at his designated high school with support in the school he belongs to. We will pray for all of the kids headed to middle school this year, that they have the experience of a lifetime. 

Today, I will let my heart heal, and tomorrow, we take on the last half of our extended school year before he starts his very own sixth-grade experience. No matter how different it may be.

Originally published on the author’s blog

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