Monday, February 28, 2011

High- Anxiety

High-functioning autism can be so incredibly frustrating.

Granted, we have many, many advantages. He is a smart little guy. He wants to engage socially and is truly charming when he does so appropriately. I feel incredibly fortunate that our piece of the puzzle places us in the high-functioning range of the spectrum. But there is also something exceptionally frustrating about this spectrum territory too.

We had a wonderful weekend. When at home, we rarely even think of his issues. But as I packed him off to school on this dreary, rainy Monday, I couldn't help but feel trepidation that I was sending him straight to the front line of his struggles. It's at school that his high-functioning explodes (or implodes?) into high-anxiety. Why does he struggle so much there? And if he so clearly struggles, why is it then that I feel I must push so hard for compassion and understanding?

Is it because his atypical neurology may be so difficult to recognize? To see? So that when his autism does present itself, he seems merely odd or badly behaved?

Am I seeing backlash for having "labeled" him? Was that a bad idea after all?

Or is it because his struggles and frustrations so often present themselves as anxiety. Does he receive less understanding, less tolerance because while he actually is overcoming his spectrum challenges remarkably well there are times he simply seems like a bad kid or worse, a little "crazy?" Does he carry that taboo too?

Maybe, it is because he's so unpredictable? He copes and copes until he can't and he seems to just explode?


Still, I find him so wonderfully quirky, adorable and endearing, I guess I'm struggling to understand why, for example the birthday party invite can be so hard to come by. Afterall, there is a child with pronounced impairments in my daughters grade who I swear is invited to at least half of the parties, even still, in 5th grade.

Perhaps we've so completely modified our lifestyle around him, have made him so comfortable and at ease in our familiar surroundings that we never see his anxiety while he is here? But if he can be so comfortable at home, couldn't I find at least one other group that would collude with us to make him just "at home" elsewhere? Make him feel welcomed and invited even. It seems we are though — we are beginning to find just such a community at church.

Silver Lining: Our church is reaching out, to us and to other families. We have a new priest. She has a background in special education and has brought that to her role in ministering our church. She also invited other specialists to give a sermon on learning differences which included a specific mention of children on the autism spectrum. My husband and I were invited to a dinner to welcome her to our community and of the families at this small gathering, all of us had children with high-functioning needs. So many displays of support. It is all bit subtle really, but to us of course, it is huge. Receiving this sort of outreach feels unusual. It puts me in new territory. But I am amazed and hugely grateful.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Re-Visit

The kids spent the school day at the Quirky School that we are strongly considering. They both liked it very much.

We also went swimming again — and so I claim that we have succeeded in making swimming a routine family event: great for C.S.'s sensory needs, DeDe has a blast and gets to feel accomplished, hubbie and I take turns in the lanes getting much needed exercise and together we lead the kids in a family swim class to polish their strokes and work off the weight that has come on so quickly since C.S. began medication. Its a win-win-win-win swim date.

I've got a long post brewing, it is something I need to write, some things I need to figure out and get that silver lining out there for myself. I always think of blogs as being more unedited, more spontaneous (like this one) but... the truth is, sometimes I just work things out not exclusively by writing but more importantly, through the editing process. Besides, this one deals with church, spirituality and faith. It's no small subject.

Silver Lining: Everything is better savored and so at times deserves a second look.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

I Know You

The first thing I recognized was how cheery and outgoing this Mom was being with her son. He, with a wide smile, eager eyes and tossled hair as if just out of bed, seemed perfectly normal. Still, he was vaguely oblvious to her and not defiantly so. He obviously listened to her and responded, but not by looking at her and not by following directions, at least not on the first prompt. Gradually though, through her cheery insistence, her words sunk in and he was able to accept their first order of business -- there were no rice krispy treats. Apparently, this was his typical order. She was actively selling alternatives like strokes of luck before announcing the disappointment. And I recognized her defensive maneuvers, every last one of them.

She asked him to stop touching everything, he was tapping and touching everything in the open case, just like C.S.. He complied, but then began to rub his neck against the tape that formed a partitian in the wrapping line. She tapped his back and reminded him not to lean on it that it would not hold his weight. As he swayed to the music, it suddenly occured to her to tell him, "and don't get on the floor" quickly followed by a slight correction in her tone making it sound more like an inside joke, "don't start breakdancing." Followed by a reassuring smile as if to convey (I'm not blaming you sweetie, I know it's not your fault).

I smiled in recognition at her. Seeing it, she simply replied, "because he will, he'd do that sort of thing."

Of course, I knew he would. I knew he was a sensory seeking little guy. After just 3 minutes of just watching this pair, I recognized everything they were doing, the subtle struggle, to make it through a coffee order at Starbucks. Been there, done that dahrling. I wish there was something I could do or say to let her know how much I sympathise with all this over-active parenting, with everything she was doing to make it through what to so many is the most hum-drum part of a typical morning instead of a series of public obstacles.

Still, I know too well that part of the goal is to make it through like anyone normally would. To be, just like any Mom there with her son to pick up some morning treats. But, I wish she could somehow know that she was more like this stranger standing beside her than she could ever realize.

Silver Lining: I think there's more and more families struggling with sensory issues than we realize. I recognize it more and more in my son's classmates. And eventually, one day, this will be something that does get talked about, not in that gossipy way, but as understanding shared. I'll figure out eventually how to relate. As for today, I added my own little skill at redirection as she waited for her coffee order to be delivered. I said, "I see a lucky penny over here, does anyone need a lucky penny." She obliged, he excitedly picked it up and then fixated on it just as I expected he would.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Count Down

C.S.'s new strategy to cope with stressful and frustrating situations is to start counting. "How many windows are in the room? How many movie posters are on the wall?" Etc. etc.

It began when Samantha, his therapist realized C.S. was counting the points on a sunburst shaped mirror frame in her office. She recognized this was something he enjoyed doing, connected it to his need for a more active coping strategy and there you go. Seems so simple, eh.

Well, it works like a charm. And to tell the truth, this sort of redirection is something we've done before, both me and my husband and Tia (my husband's sister) who is just a natural with children. But that's just it I guess, I had just lumped it into that general category of redirection or more accurately what-must-be-done-to-avoid-a-complete-meltdown, a response that is all tangled up with fears of what might happen and feelings about what has happened before. So although we've used counting as a strategy before, what I hadn't done, was name it.

Once, long ago, I wanted to learn to meditate. As I sat there assuming a lotus position and trying to empty my mind and focus on nothing but my breath and what was happening in that moment, "the now," as is typical of novices, my thoughts wouldn't be still but tended to flit and drift back in time fretting about something that happened however long ago and forward in time worrying about something yet to face. The advice I was given was to start naming things. "That is the sound of my breath. That is the sound of a passing car. That is the feeling of the sun shining on my face, etc. etc. etc." Actively describe "now" to become aware of it. Describe it. Name it. I

n C.S's case, count it, quantify it... inventory this world. Observe. Keep it simple. And in this way, perhaps even meditate.

Silver Lining: I never was successful at making meditation a part of my daily, weekly or even monthly routine. But C.S. and Samantha have shown me how simple and vital it can be, to take a deep breath, focus on the present and name or count the things around you. I think we'll definitely be able to build upon this strategy.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Bragging Rights

I just read today's blog over at A Thinking Person's Guide to Autism.

You know, information soothes me. Reading their blog was exactly the sort of coping strategy I needed today. Learning more about twice exceptional children (a term I was first introduced to over at ProfessorMother.com) calmed me. Because it was so rational, because it made so much sense and because, it resonated with me completely. I believe both my children are 2e types; one with PDD-NOS and the other ADD.

So while venting about dodge ball in my blog last night helped to some degree, it provided a release and kept me from blowing up entirely, then to understand exactly what it means to be Gifted and Twice-Exceptional and to re-focus on our actual goal not of just "fitting-in" but being a "success" helped me get back on track, move ahead and continue with my journey.

I also learned how to insert a link. So if you were confused about the whole purple reference, check out this post over at MOM-NOS, I so very strongly recommend it!

And yeah, I gave up on blogging about character. I have plenty going on. But I am seriously considering adopting a negative character trait — bragging.

I mean, my children do some exceptional things. So, although there are things they do that people find irritating, even me, all in all though, they are beautiful children. They are rare and wonderful in so many ways, and really bright. All I want is to make certain that their strengths are appreciated in this world. Why not just start calling 'em out a little bit.

So while my parents instilled in me the notion that to brag is crass and coarse and not appropriate at all, I've noticed that our society has gotten lazy about forming our own opinions. We're too addicted to marketing. For example, someone might say, "I don't eat sweets..." and then proceed to eat a whole brownie. What amazes me how many people if asked would say that this person does not like sweets. They trust not what they witnessed, but what they were told. That is why I'll brag, I'll tweet, I'll spin and market them, it is the nature of our contemporary society.

My C.S. is fascinated by shock waves and negative numbers, they thrill him. He has found countless errors of fact between his Pokemon cards and his Pokedex the whole litany of which he can recite down to the page number whenever asked. And he is becoming fluent in facts about birds (we've attempted to substitute a Sibley's Guide for the Pokedex and piggy back on his Pokemon interest a little bit). On a recent entrance exam, when asked, if you could have any super power, what would it be?, he answered: "to enter into other people's dreams." So not only are his tests scores as high as you might expect as "normal" for high-functioning autism, he has an eloquent lyricism unusual even here.

My DeDe sat down and produced valentine's cards for her entire class without me saying anything at all. She thinks I don't know that she has a flashlight beneath her pillow to read her book at night or that she goes downstairs and draws for hours in her basement "studio" after I'm asleep. And though this makes for difficult mornings, she has produced some imaginative and truly original drawings. She is inspired by the artists that were introduced to her in her after-school enrichment class. And she read with rapt attention and with an expression of such intense empathy and concern her Girl Scout book about being a Factor of Change. She has such sensitive and exceptionally caring qualities about her.

Silver Lining: I have exceptional children!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Purple Envy

In some ways, I am jealous of you other Spectrum Moms in the real thick of battle out there. You seem to bond with other blogging Mommies dealing with similarly daunting situations. You have such a hugely supportive network in Autism Speaks. I on the other hand feel like we're neither here nor there.

When I read about the sort of support MOM-NOS received for her Bud, I thought I had found such an incredible example. I wanted so much for my C.S. To receive something similar. (see http://momnos.blogspot.com/2009/09/purplest.html). I even sent links to various MOM-NOS posts to the school social worker, certain we could emulate her success. But the school social worker explained my son's autism was just not, well bad enough, to warrant calling such attention to it or having such a classroom discussion.

I was reminded of all this when on Friday, C.S. came home with a "grouchy" on his behavior chart indicating a difficulty, an unexpected behavior, some sort of situation during recess. The note explained he would not participate. I gently discussed his day, dancing softly over to the problem area so that he might describe to me what had happened.

For crying out loud ... It was dodge ball again! And once again, they expected him -- him, a kid with serious sensory issues, who winces just entering in that loud echoey gym and who struggles to understand why it is appropriate to have even slight physical contact during sports much less being blasted with a ball -- to actually participate. And were they honestly surprised that he got upset after being hit, that he'd have difficulty dealing with it?

His therapist helped C.S. Discover a new coping strategy, something that will help him really take action to begin calming himself. He will begin counting things. we tried it today, it really works

still. Why won't the team at school wear purple for him?

Under Coverage

To begin therapy, first I had to find a good therapist. I got recommendations from trusted sources. I met with those recommended. I wanted to find someone I liked, that I felt I could trust, who would not just talk but would actively help us find solutions and strategies. Samantha was the clear choice. The only problem was, she didn't take insurance. (Many of the most highly recommended therapists do not, why is that?)

The solution seemed clear at the time. My husband and I would buy into the most expensive insurance plan (an increase of $100/mo) his company offeered. This would allow us out-of-network coverage. At $2,000, the deductible seemed substantial, but considering the fees we were paying and the frequency of his visits, we expected to meet it in no time. The sessions started off with immediate progress and it very quickly seemed we had found the best possible solution for assistance with our son and that the increased expenses we were paying for a better plan would be worth every cent. We forged ahead and looked forward to the day the reimbursements would start coming in.

When the first insurance statement arrived, we were shocked to learn the insurance company would not recognize the full fees but that they only recognize a third of it. And so only a fraction of the actual amount we paid would be applied towards our deductible. The same was true of the costs of his social skills group. And then when it became clear that our daughter was struggling and we wanted her to meet for therapy too, we then realized that our deductible was per patient, not for the entire family. As a result, it seems quite probable our deductibles will never be met.

And so, despite new laws requiring autism coverage in CT and despite the premium rates we're paying for a premium plan, for the past 6 months, we've paid for his individual therapies and his social skills class entirely out of pocket.

Silver Lining: I am truly convinced I found the best possible therapist for my children. Just today, I spoke to another Mom who started taking her child to one of the same network doctors I met and at about the same time. Unfortunately, she feels they've made too little progress and is now considering finding a new therapist. I feel I've gotten a return on my investment. I just don't know how we're be able to continue to afford such premium coverage with an ever out of reach reimbursement policy.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Odd Bird

If I were to draw a caricature of my son, it would be as an unusual but adorably endearing, lovable bird boy. He flaps, he squawks, he pecks, he waddles, he flits, he nests ... it is not at all difficult to imagine. It is so easy to see how birdlike he is in fact that I realize what I seem to work harder at, what takes more skill and artistry, is to draw out and exaggerate his typical boy features. It is here, exaggerating these traits, where I most often apply my perception and creativity.

When he flaps the leader of his social skills class has suggested I ask, "Don't flap your hands. How else can you show you are excited?"

When he peeps and squawks, I remind him I will not respond to him until he can tell me what he wants in a complete sentence or in a normal voice.

When he bumps into walls or into me and moves like a sparrow trapped against a window, (if it is at I time when I don't find this completely irritating) well then, I just cave in and I hug him tightly to me in a huge squeeze because I know that is what he needs. My little bird boy. He's a good egg, really.

In the realm of autism, his oddities aren't that big at all. We're lucky. Even though there are enough "classic" tell tale signs of the spectrum all over him, it took me forever to convince my Pediatrician who is also a friend that he did indeed have an autism spectrum disability. And though his high-functioning abilities concealed enough that more than one very bright adult completely missed anything odd about him, he has weaknesses that most certainly would not go over-looked by six- to ten-year olds. His odd traits grow huge in school and if there is anything eight-year old boys seem to be looking for, it is the ability to draw out individual traits at will and use them as ammunition. To be so easily drawn into caricature is a horrible liability for any kid.

Silver Lining: Adults, particularly kind and/or intelligent ones (my preferred types anyway), can be much more forgiving and accepting of odd individuals with quirky traits. We can see through them, past outward appearances. We can understand good intentions, appreciate finer qualities and recognize a myriad other distinctions. So even if he always remains oddly birdlike, I reassure myself that there are other ways he will grow out of it.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Bad Mornings

My husband has the coolest of jobs, so I'm not complaining, but when he travels, he leaves a huge black hole in our house that seems to make everything come tumbling in on itself. I'm unable to move through the kitchen in the morning, the kids begin to orbit around me so closely. By evening, they outright cling. And the space around me literally collapses as the kids get closer and closer in on me. When I'm in a good mood, its suffocating. I try to summon that guru calm, tolerance and passivity but there are times, like when I've fretted and worried over something and am cranky and sleep deprived that I just loose it.

I did yesterday.

I feel horribly guilty. I blame myself. Afterall I do so much to guide and monitor and protect my children's behavior and their moods. I know how important it is to have a good morning if C.S. is to have a successful day at school. I've convinced myself that so much depends on me, my vigilance... thank goodness it seems that his school day went fine, because that would have been all the sentence I needed.

But don't I ever get to just be mad at them? I mean, OK, I understand he really can't take the perspective of others and that he just doesn't get the nuances and so tends to push everything to extremes, but when I told him to clean up the milk that he spilled and then smeared into self-hypnotizing circles on the table "right now" he began to wail and cry and exclaimed "you mean I have to do this forever! For the rest of my liiiifffffee" and I just lost it.

"Did I say forever? No. When I say 'now,' I mean this minute, not later but not from here to eternity. Why would I even want you to clean the table for the rest of your life? Does that even make sense? No. Now, stop crying and just clean up the spilt milk..." and a clich├ęd phrase breaks my blue streak for just a second and I realize that its me who is making so much over spilt milk.

This life is so exasperating, sometimes I really do want to scream, "Don't you get it!" or "Why can't you just be Normal!!" or to my daughter "Why can't you help me!"

Just goes to show, understanding isn't the key to everything.

Silver Lining: There is something to be learned in everything. I realize that too often and under all sorts of situations, that there is only so much understanding anyone can offer up to tolerate something or someone. Where are those limits? Where are they for me — for disciplining my children? Where are they for others who would not have even a fraction of my compassion for them? How much understanding really can be expected? It is something I really should know, to let myself and others off the hook occasionally.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Symbolic Badges and Real Understanding

I'm tired today. Weary again. I worried all night. And not for my son so much, but for my Scouts. Two different parents came to me in confidence about an upcoming event. Evidently, last year, at the same event, most of our then larger Den had received awards except for a few. It was something the parents were not aware of until shortly before or even as it happened. They felt excluded. They were hurt. And they wanted someone to make sure this wouldn't happen again. They asked me to ensure that whatever awards were given, whatever requirements needed to be met, that their child was on track to receive it. My immediate reaction was to respond, "Of course, I completely understand. Whatever it is, we'll do it. We'll all be ready for it. We'll get the award."

It turns out the award in question was our rank. While the Crossing Over ceremony is in the Spring, some scouts, some Dens, complete their rank requirements early and can be awarded them at the Blue and Gold dinner. I didn't know this and I just hadn't set this pace from the beginning. We're not even close to completion.

But of course these parents' concerns and desire to protect their children tapped right into my own fears. A strong surge of empathy, concern and responsibility welled up and would not let me rest. After fretting about it all day, I decided upon a series of responses I felt were truly the best:

First, I called the Pack leader to find out how many Dens were expected to receive their rank early (I didn't want ours to be the only one that didn't, thankfully we're not). With as much discretion as I could, I explained the situation and my desire to make this year a better experience. He suggested that he make an announcement at the event that those scouts receiving their rank had elected to complete their requirements early or something similar. It seemed as if it might help.

Next, I sent an email with all the info I could about the event to my Den including what awards would be given and what our scouts might expect to and not to receive. Afterall, with C.S., I understand and value the importance of managing expectations.

Then, I planned a meeting prior to the event where I will award each scout that portion of their rank which they have earned. I have also assigned them the task of helping a new scout in our Den catch up on his many requirements so that he will earn his rank by Spring. I've suggested that whatever we do and wherever we are in our rank progress, that we cooperate as a Den and so, that we also agree to receive our rank award at one time, all together. I hope they agree to this.

But the one thing I am not able to do is what was asked of me — my scouts will not be awarded their rank at this event. And it had surprised me how much this is weighing on me. It has really struck a nerve.

I've thought a great deal about it. I've decided that our previous Den leaders really never intended of course to hurt these kids or to exclude them. But it did happen and certainly continued to as I experienced at the beginning of the year. (see my earlier post Crusades and might as well check out Outcasting too.) I won't allow the defense that anyone is just being "too sensitive" — something I haven't heard applied to this situation, but that I've heard so much I certainly have begun to expect it. Many of the scouts in my troop have slight, invisible disabilities. Nothing bad, but still issues around which real and valid, very tender sensitivities develop. Unfortunately, too few people, teachers, educators, leaders, parents really understand this. And if there is anything in this world I am trying to change it is that more people understand, more people perceive, more people learn how best to reach out and assist the kids in their communities with slight needs. High-functioning and invisible disabilities cause far greater frustrations and difficulties than I think anyone realizes, not just for the children but also their entire family. I wish I could award these kids badges they so deserve for the many hurdles they've quietly overcome without recognition.

Silver Lining: My girl scouts are currently discussing the idea of being a "change factor." I recall the impact a similar discussion had made upon me. I decided then and I suppose it stayed with me, that yes I did wish to be a change factor, that I would do what I could to help others and make this world a better place. It has turned out that I've had more opportunities than I imagined, that they are all small but that it has made for a much rougher road than I ever imagined. I'm not so certain my efforts have done anything but make my life more difficult, except when it comes to my children. I know I've made a difference for them. And now, perhaps in some small way, I think I'm making a difference for these scouts too. At least I'm trying to. But one thing is certain, my experience with scouting has taught me lessons, has helped me build character, has added definition to my beliefs, but oh so differently than I ever expected it would.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Daily Character

I've decided to accept a general challenge from www.nablopomo.com to write a post every day during the month of February (thankfully a short month) on the topic of Character.

Expounding on character seems do-able, especially as it connects to my greater topic of individualism and raising my children. I believe it is evident from everything I've written here already, that there is nothing I appreciate more than a "true character." And I don't just mean eccentrics. Characters I admire are people who have a real sense of self, who are secure in their own skin.

Of course, character is a word rich in meaning. It is associated not just with someone's individual traits, but so much more — such as their moral or ethical qualities; integrity; actors become them on stage (we are a family with strong connections to theater); letterforms and typeface are characters too (appeals to my design training) — and so yes, the full range of character includes topics of particular interest to me.

Let's see what we can make of it.

Silver Lining: I will still include my silver lining. I expect my overall approach to remain the same. But maybe this suggested thread could help me tie up a neat bundle of thought, at least throughout February — and perhaps, help me keep my posts short!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

A Quirky School

"The school wraps itself around each individual student and so finds its shape instead of each student trying to fit into some standard pigeonhole at the school." – that was how a mother described Easton Country Day to us.

We were intrigued. We had arranged a visit and had arrived just as the first flakes of an unexpected snowstorm began to fall hours before a much forecasted Nor'Easter. These two combined storms would add up to one that would be even bigger and last longer than what we already faced and dreaded. And so the school office was abuzz with the excitement of another snow day and several children calling their parents to arrange for early pickups. We were met initially by the secretary and then an energetic fellow in a sweatshirt that seemed like a fascinating character suitable for absent-minded chemistry professor or rugby coach. He quickly adopted the task of extending a warm welcome and assuring us, each time he sprinted past the glass wall, that they would find the principal who was obviously not in her office.

I could see what was taking so long. As she made her way to the office, the principal was approached by each passing student who she chatted with or tapped a shoulder affectionately. When she entered, she reassured a worried red-haired girl that they would get in touch with her parents and if not, she'd give her a ride home herself. She hugged an older girl who could not contain her excitement about the early release. All the children gravitated to her and with each, she warmly received them just as she eventually warmly received us.

We chatted for a while in a small conference room. We started by explaining our interest in private schools and describing our children. I am very candid about my children, both their strengths and their apparent weaknesses (which I actually think include a number of strengths). Instead of a quiet control taking over her features and shielding her eyes, instead of obvious concern about managing a child on the Spectrum or a young girl with an overactive interest in the visual arts, she leaned forward and offered not just congenial warmth but most importantly, a sincere attraction to our children. And she was interested in the whole picture. Not just the superior and high average ratings but also the interesting personalities. And she seemed to understand perfectly not only the sort of children I was describing but also the problems we had faced. And she offered an empathetic appreciation that the struggles our children faced were not acceptable nor were they "their" problems simply because their school would not claim any sort of responsibility for them.

As we began the tour, we passed the office of the bright-eyed sweatshirt-wearing rugby professor who turned out to be the leader of a program called "original play" – just one of the many aspects of the school that actively focuses not only on academic growth but also the social development of all the students.

During the tour, it became evident that she didn't intend to over explain or market the school to us, but that she did expect us to perceive much of what was happening ourselves — and we did. We saw a young boy skipping down the hall between classrooms. She was ready to respond to our questioning glances once they turned to her. This child, as part of their vertically integrated program, was moving from his second grade class to a math program that best suited his skills which in his case were more advanced than other children his age. Next, we entered a quiet, orderly classroom of children intently listening to a teacher reading a story and then followed to wildly decorated classroom that by comparison to the other might seem disheveled or unorganized with students working independently at their desks. She explained that each classroom was distinct, some offering structure and others much less so. Children are placed in the environment that best suits their preferred learning style and needs. But all classrooms offered a variety of settings; individual desks, group tables and soft areas and, what our eyes had become fixated upon, headphones for children who wish to concentrate more. In this class, a child wore large padded, noise-canceling headphones. She must've known we'd recognize the value of headphones, she must've realized it would resonate with us and our hopes for C.S. She gave us time to see how seamlessly this child fit in, how normal it was to wear them. I know she knew because she patiently waited just the perfect amount of time for the emotion and tears that had welled up in our eyes to subside. The headphones were not a modification, they were a typical option. Of course we appreciated how that sort of nuance would make a world of difference.

There was a theater and a production underway, something unavailable to our daughter at her current school. The imaginative art in the hallway illustrated so much more than the children ever knew. And as we saw class after small class of twelve students with two teachers each my husband and I looked knowingly at each other, no longer questioning anything because we were already sold. And then, she then led us to the another hall. On our way there we ran into a jubilant young lady. Once past she explained that this young girl was repeatedly reprimanded in her former school for singing in the bathrooms. At ECD, she found not only a supportive music program, but also a supportive school environment that welcomed her voice and celebrated her talent. For example, while visiting an aquarium, the class was watching a tank of sea turtles or something that was accompanied by a musician when she broke out into song. Can you imagine? A high school girl spontaneously serenading sea turtles before a whole classroom of peers? But she did and was applauded for it, so much so that the school and her extemporaneous additions were invited to return which they had this year. The principal related story after story of children the school had supported in following their individual interests until as high school students they found ways to help students run a vegetarian restaurant or connect with a local museum to gain more in-depth knowledge about anthropology.

And then we arrived at our destination and she invited us to peek through the window into a class with one teacher and one student. She explained that this student initially arrived at ECD not as part of the student body but merely to share the facilities. His parents had requested use of a classroom where he could meet with a team of private specialists — Autism specialists. He was on the Spectrum, apparently barely verbal when he arrived and was never expected to mainstream with other students. But at some point, and I can so well imagine how this could happen, the parents ran out of funds to keep the specialists on board. And so the school then offered to build a program around this boy. I was so deeply touched by how incredibly responsive they were to each child's needs, but this was really so much, I swelled with gratitude that such a school could even exist.

Be it a boy who excels at math, a girl inspired to sing spontaneously or a student who has truly individual needs, this school had succeeded in creating an environment that welcomed all sorts of idiosyncratic strengths and interests. It provided not only a strong academic program but also a wonderful culture for students to mature into well-rounded and wonderful characters. Exactly what I have always wished for my children.

Silver Lining: I found it. I thought such a program could exist and one does. Here, educators actively access all their training to form a program that responds to students individual needs. ALL students. The whole school is on an IEP! I really think this could work for us.

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