Tonight, Ben graduated from high school. I know it seems cliche to say, but it really does seem like only yesterday that he took those first terrifying steps into school.
He spent five years in public schools (first in Seattle, and then later in Orlando), and then spent a dozen years at a charter school just for autistic children.
We have watched him grow from a sickly pale wisp of a child, ten years old and still wearing diapers, into a strong and healthy adult.
In the state of Florida a special-needs person can remain enrolled in public school through the end of the semester during which their 22nd birthday occurs. Ben's birthday was just over two weeks ago, and the semester ends this week. And so, tonight he graduated high school along with two of his classmates.
As graduation ceremonies go, it was extremely brief. Some opening remarks, a 3 1/2 minute video retrospective of the three graduating students, and then the presentation of the diplomas. The whole thing was over and done within fifteen minutes, but to the school's credit it was treated with all of the seriousness and pomp & circumstance of any other graduation ceremony. It was intimate, yet well attended, andt here was not a dry eye in the house.
So that's it, the end of an era. Ben actually has two more days of school, but after this Friday he is done forever with the public school system.
So what happens next? Honestly, it is going to take some time to figure out the "new normal". There is an Adult Day Training program we are looking at, and I am hopeful that it will work out. Statistically, most individuals in Ben's situation turn twenty-two and then spend the rest of their life sitting on a couch watching television. That is no good for anyone, least of all the autistic person. He deserves to continue to have a meaningful place to go each day and to make a worthwhile life as best he can. It is going to be a rough transition, and it is going to take some time to really figure it out.
I don't know where Ben is headed, but I am truly fascinated to find out. He has come such a long way, with so far yet to go. I hope it's a good journey.