Ralph and I have been driving back and forth to colleges since September 2001.
First, I went back to school to become a legal secretary, graduating in 2004 (25 years after my first bachelor’s degree in English/Linguistics). There was a one-year break in 2004-2005, then Mary began her studies at the local community college in accounting, and went on to a local business college for her bachelor’s degree. Two years later, her brother Will began his studies in computer information technology at a local Christian college. Two years after that, Patty began her college career. At one point, Ralph and I were driving three kids to and from three different colleges five days a week. The Kilter college taxi service has been in operation for the last eight academic years (I don’t count my own years in college for the taxi service).
Two weeks ago, the Kilter college taxi service ceased operation after our youngest daughter, Patty, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in history and minor in economics, magna cum laude. She approached college differently than her siblings. No accommodations were requested or needed. She is quirky, creative, and laughs out loud during her classes as she does at home. She thinks things through and connects the dots on her own. She challenged her professors and didn’t let them get away with easy answers. She often prepared group study guides for her classes and invited her classmates to use them for tests. Of course, the study guides helped her on the exams even more. In her last year and a half, she was the teacher’s Assistant for one of her professors. Graduation weekend, she spent 30 hours in her room, grading exams.
After commencement, I was able to meet her professors at this small private school. I took pictures of her together with them.
Then one of her professors came up to me and whispered, “Thank you for bringing her to us.”
And that is what I did. First, I convinced her to choose this college. Then I brought her to her classes five days a week for four years. Before and after work.
The valedictorian of her class talked about the opportunity cost of choices made. Ralph and I made the choice to spend ourselves in the effort of getting our two kids with autism and the one without through college to their bachelor’s degrees. We could have chosen to let them out into the world to work or do college totally on their own. My sister called it “an enormous effort.” Our effort involved transportation on a daily basis, encouragement, filling out financial aid applications, paying some of their tuition, giving some times unwanted advice, intervening with professors who had trouble understanding and implementing accommodations. But this goal was a priority above any other. Some of the costs were fewer friendships, no vacations, rest and relaxation, etc. In our minds, it has been worth the price paid.
Some might say we did too much for them, took on too many of the responsibilities that should have been theirs. After all, college is the time when children should be spreading their wings. I believe that each parent needs to judge what what each child needs individually. Mary needed more assistance, Will needed less. Their autism did necessitate more help. However, as they adjusted to college, they needed our help less and less. Other than transportation, help with tuition, and stops at McDonald’s for lattes and sausage McMuffins, Patty fiercely resisted any assistance from us. The time for spreading wings for our family, has been after college.
Friends, colleagues, and my psychiatrist have congratulated me on my remarkable accomplishment. However, as I keep pointing out, without our kids’ intense cooperation and effort, none of this would have happened. They were the ones who worked so hard in high school so that they would have scholarships to help pay for college. They were the ones who EARNED their bachelor’s degrees. Their accomplishments have been way beyond all that we could have asked or imagined when they were all placed in special education during the 1991-1992 school year. We were simply their enablers.
We have attended four college commencements since 2008. Patty’s was the sweetest of all.