I’m at it again. Another late night internet search: reading, comparing, going back and forth, stuck in an endless loop. I feel crazy, but I can’t stop. My tabs are populated with store fronts, and my virtual shopping carts are stuffed with backpacks of all varieties. I’ve been to these sites before, read all the reviews, but I haven’t been able to click “buy.” I just keep running in a hamster wheel of indecision, desperate to find the perfect kindergarten backpack for my five-year-old son with autism.
For two years Amy Wetherby’s statement, “If you can get these kids ready for kindergarten, they’re fine until junior high,” echoed in my head. It was my driving force. So when the time came, my son was ready… except for the perfect backpack. It was that important.
Before you call me crazy, there is some context here.
We were cloistered in a wonderful preschool that also had an autism day treatment program like no other – all therapies were embedded into the classroom, focus was on relationship building and when the kids were ready, they transitioned right into the inclusive preschool program. We had been there for three and half years.
So I knew exactly the kind of environment I wanted for my son’s kindergarten – full inclusion and an open culture that saw him, not a label. Through lots of school visits, we found that place. Our preschool team and early childhood special education teams were in close communication with our new school team.
Everything was set up:
- Extra meetings with his new teacher to build a strong relationship
- One-page “bio” on my son, complete with adorable picture, that outlined his unique manifestation of autism to be shared with his entire team. Way beyond the IEP, I painted a personal and complete picture of who he is in an academic setting.
- Paraprofessional support to help him learn the expectations of his classroom and be successful
- Therapies embedded into the classroom – Speech and Occupational Therapy, special education teacher time and social support
- An IEP that reflected his unique skills and challenges
But that foundation didn’t touch my backpack obsession. In hindsight I realize it served a function by funneling all my anxiety about this transition, wrapping his autism-related issues into a neat little contained package.
So I kept searching for the perfect backpack:
- It needed to be comfortable or he wouldn’t use it
- It needed to be simple or he’d be overwhelmed
- It needed to be cool or he’d be teased
- It needed to be big enough to use for many years, because he wouldn’t accept a new one
- But not too big, or again, he wouldn’t wear it
These are all real issues that parents living with autism face when deciding “little” things that typical parents don’t worry as much about. So I wasn’t surprised when I heard from another mom this summer who is leaving the same protective environment my son and I had left years ago.
She too was obsessing over her son’s backpack and wanted to know which one I had finally selected. I sent her information and links to the one I chose for my son, but more importantly I hope she received peace of mind. I remember vividly that fruitless online search for reassurance. None of the reviews or descriptions say what we need to hear. “This backpack will protect your child. It will be your surrogate while he’s away, a talisman against failure and a shield against a world set up to misunderstand him.”
Because in the end, it’s not about the backpack. What we’re really obsessed with is doing all we can to make things just a little bit easier for our sons. It’s about walking the fine line between what’s cool and what’s functional, honoring their limitations while pushing them forward and, ultimately, sending them out into the world carrying as much of our love as they can possibly hold.