When TJ was first diagnosed with autism at age 2, kindergarten felt like light years away. Would he be in a regular classroom with his typically developing peers? Would he be able to make it through an entire day without falling asleep? Would he cry all day and be miserable?

When we finally got to that first day, TJ’s teacher’s aide held him as I walked away. TJ was screaming for me. “Mommy! I want to go home! Don’t go!”

I walked away from my baby, clutching my arms together as tears streamed down my face, hyperventilating until I turned the corner. I leaned against the wall and lost it. Full blown sobs. And I’m an ugly crier – there was nothing cute about it. Streams of parents walked by, looking at me with sympathy. At least I think it was sympathy. They very well may have been “oh my god look at that tear-stained messy crier leaning against the wall – how pathetic” looks, for all I know. I wasn’t quite aware.

In any case, I made it out of the school in one (ugly crying) piece and went home.

At the end of that first day, the SLP (Speech/Language Pathologist) brought an exhausted yet triumphant TJ out to meet me.

TJ was smiling. He was also carrying a picture that the SLP took during recess. It was a picture of TJ, with his first friend. TJ had made a friend.

TJ had made a friend!!!

I was so afraid that no kid would want to be TJ’s friend, much less on the first day. My husband Sean and I were beyond thrilled. Tears again, but this time, joyful tears.

And just like that, TJ started high school this week. Even though I felt nervous sending him off into the big new school, I remembered that other first day years ago.

And so I put on my brave face and went to pick TJ up at high school Monday. The first thing I saw was his smile. A huge grin — a real one, ear to ear.

“Mom, it was awesome. It was really great to see my friends. My locker combination doesn’t work, but don’t worry, the office is taking care of it. I was outside with the guys for some air, and I was checking out the ants, and I found this!”

He held out a bag with a four-leaf clover in it. He has found one before.

Right before he started kindergarten.

Lauren Swick Jordan blogs at I Don’t Have a Job.

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