The remote school last year, and the fairly isolated nature of on-site school in the spring, left Simon in a very awkward and weird place socially, at a time when he was already struggling. This year, for grade 6, we moved him into a school that caters to kids with what you can broadly call "learning differences." Simon is pretty intelligent, and his ability to grok things often comes down to how interested he is in them. Layer in ASD and ADHD, and sometimes the issue in education is that you just need to find the right path to reach him. The odds of that happening in a building with 2,000 other middle schoolers did not seem high. Fortunately, the state covers most of the tuition.
This has a useful side effect: His classmates share similar challenges, socially and academically. These kids aren't going to judge him or perceive that he's different the way the larger body of kids would. They're his people. So this weekend, one of them had a birthday party, and he was able to stay overnight for the first time. It sounds like he had the kind of carefree time you expect kids to have, and it was awesome. The truth is, we've never really seen him this happy socially. He still pushes back on some of the school work, but even that's better than it was before.
We kind of saw it coming in the first few days of school. He immediately bonded with a specific classmate over Roblox, and we've allowed them to play together online a little more than we probably would have otherwise. It's interesting to hear them play, to cooperate, mostly be kind to each other and laugh and have a good time. It's also a relief.
I often hang on to something that one of Simon's doctors said around the time of his autism diagnosis, that kids tend to figure out coping strategies in their middle and high school years to exist in a neurotypical world, to the point where they're able to operate successfully. It doesn't mean that they're not proud of who they are, or that they can't leverage their alternate wiring to their advantage, they're just able to meet the world where it is, since it seems generally unwilling to do the reverse. I want that for him in part because I didn't have that in my school years, and it made me miserable. As if identity issues aren't hard enough in your teenage years.
It was also something of a relief for us to trade stories with parents who know exactly what we go through. We're not alone.