When we moved into the new house (yes I know I still owe the blog an actual New House post) We found ourselves in a weird “gap” year for Tyler as far as schooling was concerned. He was going to have to be going to a brand new school regardless of if we had moved or not so his 8th grade year was simply destine to be this “crap shoot” before we feed him to the wolves in high school. We took some time over the summer to research some options to see what was out there for him that may help us focus his sights a bit better and give him a good target to aim at next fall when he is a freshman. Thanks to the many school choice options here in Arizona we had a variety of schools to weigh into our decision. Extra thanks to the Empowerment Scholarship Account program we even had our pick of private placements.
We landed on a school for kids with autism because we wanted to see if a school that was dedicated to educating students on the spectrum could offer Tyler something that had always been difficult to get from the public school setting. Friends. We really wanted him to make some friends (like so bad my heart hurts at the thought of how bad I want friendships for him) we thought that since he has just always been quirky enough that friendships in the typical school environment never seemed to blossom that perhaps being surrounded by other quirky kids something would take root. We completely downplayed the whole “social difficulties” aspect of autism that manifests itself with nearly everyone on the spectrum and thought that the autism that they all shared would be glue enough to really get some bonds to stick.
Ty was stoked out his new school, its lack of homework, its half days every Friday, the field trips, NO AIMS etc. We enrolled and were really excited at what this next school year would bring. We got to meet with other families at a summer pool party, I became online friends with many of the moms who have kids that go there and we couldn’t wait for school to start.
Then it did.
When Tyler came home from his first day of school and told us that “he had a great day, but he actually LIKES AIMS and can’t wait to go back to regular school” We were floored. We thought- oh its just an adjustment period, let’s give it a few weeks. What we came to learn about our son is that -wrapped up in this young strong bold man of ours, is a very compassionate uncompassionate personality.
What I mean by that is this- it literally sent him to tears to learn that several of this classmates simply could not talk. He felt so very badly for them and just could not grasp why their autism would make them so they could scream or cry out, but not make any words that anyone around them could understand. He has autism and he talks just fine- they need more speech therapy- why didn’t they go to speech therapy when they were little and learn to talk like he did? His compassion quickly wore off as he began coming home each day annoyed and frustrated.
We had to implement several strategies for Tyler including sending in ear plugs for him to use to help stay focused when other students were having outbursts. Eventually I think some classroom shuffling relieved some of the issues- but the campus being as small as it was- the distractions were still very present. We had to have many long talks with Tyler about patience and understanding and remind him that there was a time when he would melt down at school and now he sees what that felt like for all of the other students around him.
We started to think that perhaps this placement was going to be more detrimental to Tyler then any potential benefits could bring. The idea of segregating him from “typical peers” for four quarters to “maybe make a few friends” began to sound crazy to us. By week four of school we already started talking to one another about the possibility of not staying at this school for the entire 8th grade year but making a change at mid year- or even at the end of the first quarter. We vowed to pay close attention to Tyler and watch and see if he started to “bring different autism” home with him or if he started to “stim” more then usual. We did see a sharp uptick in attitude- but it is very difficult to blame that on anything other than being a 13 year old boy.
So as the weeks went by and Tyler’s annoyance and frustration with students who have a level of autism that impacts their lives much more severely then his impacts his continued to grow we began to doubt our decision. The decision that had come so easily only a few weeks before. A few issues popped up with regards to communication and misunderstandings from teachers that had to be ironed out with an in person meeting around this same time. This was when we realized that we were no longer under the familiar umbrella of public school where we are aptly armed to go to battle for our son. We were now in private school which has a totally different ring to do battle in. Part of us had hoped to shed that armor because it is a school all for kids with autism- what battles would we need to face there?
I don’t write any of this to rip on anyone- just to be candid about our experience. When we realized through discussions that some of the members of Tyler’s team had likely not even read his IEP and MET (because they were completely unfamiliar with some of his medical issues) we were frankly disappointed. (in ourselves) We expect that from the state funded public school (not that its right but its to be expected), so we felt stupid for having assumed that a hefty private school tuition would make a difference in that so we let our guard down and we honestly somewhat unplugged.
We have only 4.75 school years left to make an impact on Tyler- if we are going to have to fight any battles- it will have to be done in public school where we have certain rights afforded to us. As much as I would love to stick it out and help guide the team- if we are going to be involved to that level it’s gonna be at public school where he has access to typical peers and the environment is not so starkly different then that of the high school setting he has his sights set on for next year.
We will head to Disneyland for fall break and when we get back- Tyler will begin his 2nd quarter of 8th grade at our home junior high school.
Wish us luck!