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Graduation Season

Graduation-caps-congrats-5047671We ran this post post last year, when Cathy's daughter graduated from college. Each year, we celebrate the Spring/Summer milestones of graduations, First Communions, Proms, College acceptances, weddings - so many rites of passage. Some of us are..."left behind."  It's OK to feel sad and a sense of mourning and loss while others celebrate. You can be happy for every blessed event, and still acknowledge that pang of longing. XOX

By Cathy Jameson, May 2023

With all five kids home after my daughter’s college graduation, we enjoyed some extra family time.  Sitting in the living room together one evening, my youngest asked, “Mommy, when would Ronan be graduating college?”  I looked at her but didn’t answer right away.  Ronan’s not been in a classroom setting for quite some time now.  Even though she doesn’t remember some of the struggles Ronan faced while he was enrolled in school, she knows we took him out of the special education system for several reasons, to include seeing seizure activity increase. 

Every now and then I wonder if taking him out, and keeping him out, was the right decision.  I don’t dwell on that thought for too long because we provided many meaningful opportunities for him while he was out of the classroom.  But questions like the one Ronan’s youngest sister asked brought up things I’d long forgotten. 

Do I miss the IEP meetings?

Do I miss the worry I sometimes felt after dropping him off?

Do I miss the phone calls from the school nurse telling me of another seizure?

No.  I don’t miss any of that. 

I do miss some of the hope that some of Ronan’s teaching staff shared with us.  I do miss the thought of a someday graduation for him, even if it wasn’t going to be the same kind of diploma his siblings would receive.  But I don’t miss the stress that school was causing my son.  I didn’t need to share all of that or any of that in my reply to my daughter, so I focused simply on what she’d asked.  She just wanted a date, even if random, that Ronan would be graduating.

“It would be next year.  Think about when Charlie would be graduating…whatever year he is in school is when Ronan would also be in school,” I told her.

A friend’s typical son, I had always hoped that Ronan would one day be mainstreamed with typical peers like Charlie.  He’s a great kid doing really great things.  I don’t see him much anymore because he’s off to school in another state, but when I get updates from his parents, I can’t help but smile.  Ronan won’t experience any of what Charlie will, but I don’t begrudge him or any other kids who find success in school. 

School isn’t for everyone.  It can be an enormous struggle.  Without proper supports, simple tasks can become frustrating.  Throw in a novel virus and a world-wide lockdown, and it’s no surprise that education took a major hit for many kids. 

Post-covid, Ronan’s younger brother became less than enthusiastic about school.  While the staff did everything possible to keep things as close to normal as they could at the high school, going to school became a chore.  Motivation tanked, grades tanked, and the future prospects of going off to higher education looked bleak.  I’ll be forever grateful that as the world re-opened, so did the idea of going to college return to Willem’s mind.  Sure, he could go straight to work, but his craft requires some formal education.  After touring a campus last fall, he wanted, like really, really wanted, to work toward a degree.  Seeing Willem buckle down with his studies gave him hope.  It gave me hope!  Walking the stage and graduating from high school this past week kicked his spirits up a notch again.  HE DID IT!  He did it with all of us loudly cheering for him.  Well, almost all of us. 

Ronan accompanied us to big sister’s graduation ceremony, but he stayed home for his brother’s.  We’ve one more graduation to get to—Ronan’s younger sister’s big day is also coming up.  He usually has the luxury of staying home for big, formal ceremonies.  It’s a lot of work for him to be there, to sit there quietly, to follow directions he’s not usually asked to follow, and to be in a setting he doesn’t want to be in.  We pack accordingly for times like that – his favorite book, his favorite picture, and his favorite scarf (a prayer shawl) sometimes, too.  But formal ceremonies become uncomfortable, long, and are just not on Ronan’s list of favorite things to do.  He’ll protest a bit, like he did at Fiona’s college graduation last weekend, which means one of us, usually my husband, will have to leave the event.  Thankfully, when Ronan couldn’t sit under the tent waiting for the 500+ students to walk the stage, they could watch the livestream video in the comfort of one of the dining halls.  It wasn’t ideal for my husband, but that sacrifice wasn’t a complete loss.  I’ll pray that the next graduation ceremony is one that Ronan can handle.  It’ll be shorter, closer to home and will begin in a familiar setting.  And as of right now, Ronan will be joining us when his little sister graduates from middle school.  

Three graduations within three weeks of each other are cause for huge celebrations for our family.  While Ronan may not want to partake in any of them, I know he understands why we’ve been a bit excited lately.  His siblings have accomplished quite a bit.  They’ve worked hard and stayed strong.  They made goals and crushed those goals.  They’ve done that while also pitching in to help me help Ronan.  With all the extra planning and recent traveling we’ve done, it’s been a tiny bit exhausting for us.  It’s also been very, very exciting.  To my three who are graduating this year, I proudly say Hip! Hip! Hooray!

Cathy Jameson is a Contributing Editor for Age of Autism.


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