Autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, sensory processing disorder, developmental delay, vocal and facial tics.

Scared little boy.

Teachers line the path, waving clappers. Music booms from a tiny stereo. Kids in new clothes with stiff backpacks, grins eating their faces, rush off their bus and scamper through the chaos, toward the building.

The principal sees him, the last to exit. It’s his first day as a student there, but she already knows him. His sister, a second-grader, is gently leading him toward the noise.

The principal is trying, too, but he doesn’t seem to hear her. His shiny new light-up shoes scuff the pavement.

His eyes are wide as silver dollars, and he doesn’t yet see us waiting for him at the end of the sidewalk. We knew the transition was going to be overwhelming, but he wanted to take the bus.

So we walk toward him. Hands rest softly on his back, sweeping him through the line. The teachers know. They tone down his welcome but still manage to offer a “Happy first day of school!” to his sister.

His sister, a star student, drops her things in her locker, kisses me goodbye and struts into her new classroom. Most of her friends from last year are in a different class, but she knows there are more to be made.

His classroom. A girl hugs the teacher. He stumbles in, eyes fixated on the bright blue alphabet rug.

His dad guides him toward a table where a gaggle of little boys, all a head shorter than he, my blond viking boy, are fishing rubber insects out of a clear tub.

They line them up, name them, hold them up to each other’s and growl. He stands, nakedly fearful, behind them.

I grab a two-inch specimen.

“Do you know what this is?” I ask, sing-songy, desperate to soothe him.

“It’s a fly?” he says, looking up at his dad for approval.

I do the same with a dragonfly. Both end up back on the table. He won’t join the children, who glance at him periodically, noticing his size, I’m sure, but probably also his Difference.

His dad pets the spot between his thumb and forefinger, trying to smooth out the anxiety.

“It’s time to grab a book, children! Pick one from the bin and sit down on the rug!”

He looks up at us, saucer-eyed. We smile. “Go ahead, honey. You can do it.”

And he does.

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