I have had this blog post in my back pocket since we arrived, but since we were in transition to FL, better late than never. 🙂
Our JD graduated last month, a day and half before we left NY, and while it felt fleeting and rushed almost, it was very clear how much time and hard work JD put into this epic milestone.
The minute he put on his cap & gown, a flash of his last 13 years in school came over me. I remember my sweet Jorge when he started Kindergarten and we wondered if he would make any friends or stop daydreaming in his own little world enough long enough to focus. Little did we know that this was sign of what would be an unexpected road in his education journey. JD was diagnosed with High Functioning Autism in 1st grade and I remember sitting in that first SES (Special Education Services) meeting nervous, scared, super protective and ready to learn. There I was in a room with 10-12 people who had already spent weeks observing, testing, analyzing my child…with logs and journals of who my son was, would be and could be. G and I were green…we had our own parental intuition, but that was all. We would find out very soon after it was pretty good intuition but it was then I truly understood the meaning of “it takes a village”. We had to rely on these “people” who had invested all this time in our Jorge to pick up where we left off daily.
I remember bawling my eyes out at our 1st annual IEP meeting when we were going over JD’s progression and goals. I cried because I knew my son would always struggle in some ways. I cried because I didn’t want anyone to treat him unfairly due to his struggles. I cried because I wanted him to be and have everything he deserved. Truth be told, I cried because I didn’t know what to expect and I knew he did’t either.
I realized being new to this gave me an open mind on what was possible for JD. The team working behind him at school was positive, adventurous, specific, and focused on the goals we had set for him. JD had a few direct issues to overcome…like looking you in the eye, flapping his pencil when he couldn’t cope with something directly, immediately disengaging while running to the window when he heard rain, and of course always separating himself from the group. These were just a few of the things he battled early on. But nothing could deny how adorable and how much potential our Jorge would bring to the table.
As we barreled through his elementary years, our Family became Family with these wonderful teachers and mentors. He was progressing with services from his school, even though many had an opinion on us not getting him diagnosed medically. My son didn’t need a doctor to “fix” him….he needed educational services, speech/language services, social interaction and integration with his peers in the classroom environment. I stood by that all the days of his school years. It was only when we got orders to Okinawa that they required us to have him diagnosed medically in order to receive orders for travel. So we took a 5 min test and apparently that meant he had Autism. It was clear things were shifting.
Once we arrived to Okinawa, he was seen by a Developmental Pediatrician (required per the medical diagnosis) and she cracked open the life of JD with what we had shared with her and what he offered her during a one on one. JD was in 4th grade and starting to get hit with some serious school work. So this nice lady mentioned the benefits of taking a medicine that could help him focus during school. I was mortified…and walked right out. I felt like this is exactly why I didn’t want him medically diagnosed. I felt like I was being strong-armed by someone who didn’t know our son or situation. We struggled really hard. It wasn’t until I reached out to the previous teachers and specialists who really knew our JD that I opened up to the conversation. The conversation where I swallowed my pride and realized this wasn’t about me and my ideals. It was about JD receiving the best education opportunities he deserved. It was about giving him the chance to see where he could peak and focus deeply towards a full life. So we decided to go with a trial period of the smallest does of Concerta (18mg). It was a time released medicine taken only when he needed to hone in and study and get organized and avoid being easily distracted. Little did we know what an impact it would have on his confidence.
JD started doing the talent show in middle school. His first time on stage was life changing for him and us. I saw a side of JD I had never seen in public….and wow can he sing! I also saw a young boy turn into a performer when the crowd would cheer for him. The acting bug had grabbed him and we couldn’t have been happier. He starred in several school plays and began doing community theater in Germany. He was part of a group…an expressive and outgoing group at that. What a far cry from the little boy who wouldn’t sit with his class during story time, wouldn’t look at you when you spoke to him, wouldn’t speak to you unless he wanted something. He was tackling his goals…all because he didn’t give up and neither did anyone else in his corner.
This would bring us to high school….a time where cliques are formed and school gets really tough. Not to mention our JD had to switch schools after his Freshman year. That means a new team of educators digging into his IEP and figuring out what he needs (enter IEP super Mom….I am now a certified expert in handling these IEP meetings and advocating for JD). We set some pretty specific goals…adulting goals. How to manage monies, what to expect and how to navigate in a job interview, and always honing in on his language processing.
Not only did he surpass my expectations and that of his teachers, but he was on the honor roll every single year. He spent four years of high school with a study hall class instead of an elective so he could finish every piece of work he was assigned…and never brought home a shred of homework because of it. In addition (and somewhat even more important), he was praised for his respectful and work ethic. He was given multiple citizenship awards and student achievements. Every teacher and administrator knew Jorge….and wanted to take him home because he brought joy and a different vibe to his school. A vibe you could only feel in your heart. This is what makes me most proud of who JD has become.
At graduation, I remembered this all. I was reminded what a journey this truly was for our Family. We never had a guide book, we struggled as a unit and we never gave up. Can you imagine how Saige and Teage navigate through their relationship with their brother?…It’s tough sometimes and has been hard to understand, but that’s their own story and journey to tell. But watching him smile ear to ear and raise his diploma once he walked to his seat made the journey that much sweeter. All by himself, he did it!
I always said we would most likely have JD with us forever….but he has come so far. He still has his JDisms and some people still don’t fully grasp where he’s coming from all the time, however I know he will eventually live on his own. Am I worried, yes. Am I protective, hell yes. Do I need to let go, I guess. But until he decides to venture out on his own, I will enjoy every single second I get to spend in his life near me.
Congrats to the best thing out of 2016 yet!!
Can’t wait to see where his dreams take him…
Thanks to all who watched the graduation live and for those who sent cards and gifts. He appreciates every one who acknowledged him…as do we. Love to those who have impacted JD and been in our ‘village’ throughout his childhood. Gahhhh, now I’m crying….good bye!
Here are the rest of the photos if you’d like to take a lookie.
Mom & the Isla Fam