We have had a very different experience with our school district than many other parents of children with autism. The director of special education has been a great advocate, right from the start, of making sure that Oliver gets what he needs. She really believes in early intervention and she really believes in the IEP process. And, more importantly, she listens to what I have to say about Oliver and what the autism professionals have to say about the needs of autistic kids. The school district has engaged the services of a regional service provider to work with the kids in our area. Oliver was the first child to receive these services, starting late last September. Now, I've heard, there are 6 or 7 others, all of whom were diagnosed after Oliver.
Initially, Oliver was enrolled in the peer-model pre-school three mornings a week and was assigned an aide. He was also given 15 hours of in-home therapy. Later, at my request, that was increased to 21 hours, totalling 30 hours of programming altogether. And we've been cruising along like this, fairly happy, since September.
But then the director of special ed. approached the autism coordinator and asked her to assess the programming. And Mary, the shining, wonderful, star that she is, told her that it was OK. But that it could be better.
It could be better?
Yes. It would be better if Oliver didn't have to go to the pre-school where he has to fit into whatever they have planned whether it is appropriate for him or not. There are too many lost teaching opportunities each day, she told the director. And it would be better if Oliver had social times that were engineered specifically for him rather than seizing whatever opportunities happened to come up throughout the day.
OK she said. Whatever Oliver and these other children need. Let's do it.
So, one by one, each of the children in our district with autism have been pulled out of the classroom by their parents. More of their needs are being met on an individual level in the home environment. And special arrangements are being made for each child to get appropriate socialization experiences within the community. The school district is working on building relationships with the local children's museum, the library, the community recreation center and local community pre-schools.
Last week Oliver said good-bye to his teacher and his classroom. I suspect that he wasn't bothered by it a bit, although I do think that he will miss his 5 minute bus commute each morning. Martha and Lindsey, his classroom aides, have instead greeted him at our front door each morning this week and he has responded with a wry smile and a look in his eyes that clearly said: "What are you doing here?" And a quick review of his data sheets at the end of two days showed that he had two of his best days ever.
When I got home yesterday Oliver was sitting on the couch with Lindsey singing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, each word clear as a bell. And later last evening I took him with me to the supermarket to get some ice cream and there he was, standing up in our cart at the register belting out the words to the song, in his outside voice no less, and strangers turned around to look at him and smile. You couldn't have measured my happiness.
Could things be even better? Probably. As Mary tells me: Oliver is always growing and changing and so are his needs. But it sure is nice to know that we have the right people on our team along the way.