Every year around this time, I have to start thinking about how Gray will spend his summer and what school will look like for next year. It’s a difficult process because there are not a lot of options for kids like Gray. This year, we worked with a private school for children with learning differences to create a pilot program for kids who use iPads to communicate. This program has been really wonderful for Gray because of the talented teacher that leads his class and the other committed professionals who help things run smoothly.
The focus in his class is on all learning happening through use of the iPad so that Gray and the other student in his class can unlock the power of communication beyond just asking for french fries. In order to make this happen, we have 1 teacher and 1 aide, an occupational therapist who sees each kid once a week, a physical therapist who sees each kid once a week, a behavioral therapist who observes and consults, and a speech therapist who specializes in augmentative communication devices that spends a whole day with the class once a week. As you can imagine, this program is expensive. Additionally, the school that Gray attends is not a school that was designed for children with autism. His school was founded to help children with learning differences, but it is not equipped to deal with the kind of behavioral issues that Gray brings to the table. The day that I arrived to pick him up and found him laying in the hall screaming while his teacher tried to keep him from injuring himself was the day that I knew his needs were starting to encroach on the needs of everyone else in the building. When you put together the cost of the program and Gray’s behavioral challenges, the school understandably decided to discontinue the program for next year.
So, I went back to the drawing board. After considering the limited school options for Gray, I have decided to give public school a try. I won’t lie. I am desperately afraid of how this will go. I have had many friends who have worked as therapists in the public schools and they all report that they feel inadequate in the care they can provide to special needs students due to limited resources. The one glimmer of hope is that, in the public schools, the squeaky wheel gets the grease…and I am an excellent squeaker. In the meetings to set up Gray’s Individual Education Plan (IEP), I made sure that I was very clear in expressing Gray’s level of disability and I was able to get them to approve a private aide for him in the classroom. Additionally, the teacher for his future classroom seems truly committed to her job and she has given me several examples of how she runs her classroom that make me believe she understands kids like Gray.
I pray that, with me as his advocate, Gray will have resources available to him that a small private school cannot provide. I pray that the district administrators will be able to understand the benefits that Hope can give to Gray. And, I pray that Gray will continue to thrive in yet another new environment.
There is no auto-pilot for the mother of a child with autism!