#MomLife: ‘He’ll never make it past the 5th grade’

I remember those words like it was yesterday, “He’ll never make it past the 5th grade.” That’s what my son’s doctor told me when we got his Autism medical diagnosis. I remember feeling so mad and annoyed that they would put all of that pressure on a two-and-a-half-year-old boy. 

How could they predict what he would be capable of in eight years? How could they possibly know if he would be able to read or write? Where are they getting their thought process from? 

I left that meeting with the doctor feeling like I was going to prove her wrong. I was going to get Nathan through the 5th grade and show her the mistake she made of underestimating him. The challenge had been accepted and we were ready to fight. So as soon as I got home I was on the phone with various specialists and therapists, and got the ball rolling to begin our quest to the 5th grade. 

Our life had changed when we found out he was not like the other kids. He was not “typical.” He was special and different and perfect. He was both frustrating and funny at the same time. He was strong willed and stubborn. He was Nathan. I feel like as soon as we got things together they just started falling into place. 

Now, I don’t want you to think this has been all roses and sunshine. This has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to deal with. But it’s also been one of the most joyous and fulfilling journeys.

Nathan started in the Early Childhood Special Education program at two-and-a-half years old. I can’t say enough good things about this program that we have in our community. It set the foundation for his education, and taught him how to leave his momma for a few hours. He struggled a little bit but what three-year-old wouldn’t struggle being thrown into an unknown world? 

At four-years-old he moved onto the Great Start Readiness Program. Another amazing program we have in our community, just maybe not the right one for him. That year was probably the most challenging year. But it also helped to mold him and map out his educational journey. 

Next came kindergarten. Kindergarten was the year I decided to consult his doctor about possibly medicating him to help with his outbursts and focus, and maybe get him to settle down a little bit so that he could be more successful in class. Guess what else kindergarten brought us? Writing! Nathan learned how to use a pencil and started writing his name. 

I guess you could call that prediction inaccurate, doc. With writing checked off the list we were onto reading. 

First, second, third, and fourth grade all flew by. It was a whirlwind of emotions watching him check off the list of things he was told he would never be able to do. Reading, writing, math problems, potty training, and feeding himself were all things he challenged himself to do and came out on top. I wanted to call that doctor and tell her how wrong she was but I still had one last obstacle coming up: Fifth grade. 

Fifth grade was a year of independence. He learned how to function without mom always being there. He learned he was capable of doing the impossible, and that if he tried hard enough he could and would achieve greatness. He learned how to be a typical 10-year-old boy who happens to have Autism instead of being the Autistic boy who was different. He was accepted and embraced by his peers. And guess what? On June 9th, 2022 Nathan “graduated” from 5th grade! We had done it, he did it, he checked off that last box. 

Saying that I stressed over the transition to 6th grade would be an understatement. I did more than stress. I worried, I called meetings with teachers, principals, and staff members. I prepared for years. I mapped out the school and took him in and practiced more than once. So when the first day arrived in August 2022, I was nervous about sending Nathan to school for the first time since that first day of ECSE when he was two-and-a-half.

I walked him inside and got him settled at his locker. Just as I was preparing to walk him to his first class, he looked at me and said, “Mom, I got this.” Reluctantly I watched him march down the hallway to his first class. I left that day on the verge of crying but held it together. Day 2 he wouldn’t even let me out of the car. He got out and ran to the school door faster than I could acknowledge him leaving. So I let him go. Day 3 he forgot to kiss me goodbye but I let that one slide. Day 4 I asked him if he was sure he didn’t need my help. “Mom, I got this. I can do it by myself.” 

The feeling of contentment started setting in. My son has this. He can do what he was told he would never be able to do. He can prove them wrong. He can just be Nathan now. Obviously, he is still Autistic. That will never change, but he is also growing into a pre-teen boy. And soon he will grow into a teenager and an adult and I know he is going to keep setting goals and crushing them. I know that he will succeed and that he is no longer that lost little boy who was told he would never amount to anything. He is Nathan and he is currently living his best life as a 6th grader with 5th grade in his rearview mirror.

Steph Hightree is a hot mess mom who is fueled by stress and too much caffeine. She is a Three Rivers native who talks about the good, the bad, and well, everything else about parenthood.

Any views or opinions expressed in “#MomLife” are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Watershed Voice staff or its board of directors.