If you have read my writing even once, you likely know that my 12 year old son, Zion, has autism.
He was diagnosed when he was 2.
Since the age of 5, he has been enrolled in a specialized behavioral therapy called ABA. He has done this Monday through Friday, instead of going to public school. And I have supplemented his education through home-schooling programs online.
When Zion was about to enter kindergarten, the principal pulled me aside and explained his fears. He shared that there was no good placement for Zion, and that without my advocacy he would get lost in the system.
Too wild and unruly for a typical classroom.
Too intellectually advanced for the special education classrooms that were available to him at the time.
Since then, the public school districts have taken great steps in adding alternative classrooms. With the influx of kids being diagnosed with autism and other neurological issues, they really haven’t had much choice.
I have tried for years, to no avail, to find an appropriate public school placement for Zion.
That is, until last month.
Through a very specific course of events, and some key point people, I discovered an isolated public school setting that might work for Master Z.
I admit, I didn’t wanna.
But Zion is getting older. And at some point I have to face the music.
So I gathered my team, sat down with the public school’s crew, and we came up with a game plan.
(Also known as an IEP.)
I asked for Zion’s ABA therapist to be allowed to transition him into the public school classroom for at least the first semester.
They said we could have one week.
I was beyond cheesed-off about it. I was offering to pay for this therapist with my own money, to insure that Zion succeeds.
And by succeeds I mean not getting nudey butt, doing victory laps around the cafeteria.
But alas, I decided to give it a try. Even though I admit I fully believed that a one week allowance for my therapist was not nearly enough, and that the plan would fail.
But guess what?
Zion’s therapist spent one week in the new classroom with him, and was astounded by how well he did without much of her assistance.
As a matter of fact, on the very first day in the afternoon, he looked over at his therapist and said, “Bye Sarah.”
Zion has blown us all away with how much he has grown.
He is listening to his teachers. He is taking direction from his peers. He is using techniques to calm himself down when he gets worked up, instead of throwing a tantrum when he doesn’t get his way.
I am almost afraid to say it outloud, but it seems this classroom is perfect for Z.
There are only 6 other kids in the classroom. There is a teacher and two assistants. Zion is able to move around freely. He is enjoying cafeteria lunch trays instead of packing his lunch. He uses a computer with headphones to do school work and removes himself to do yoga and breathing when he gets over-stimulated.
And I am so grateful that this school district has created such a safe and appropriate place for my child to be successful.
It is also saving me thousands of dollars.
I think one of my favorite things about this new classroom setting is that Zion has the opportunity to grow so much in his social skills.
Kids tend to emulate what they are surrounded by.
At the ABA therapy center, Zion was around many non-verbal kids who scream quite often and make loud noises to release energy.
Zion was doing the same.
Now he is around kids who are much more verbal, and do not scream. They are so verbal, they will even direct him when he is doing something unacceptable.
Zion, come over here and sit down by me. The teacher wants us to be quiet.
Zion, we stand quietly in line. That is how we earn our points.
Zion, it is time to work now. Break time is over.
If you had told me a month ago that Zion’s peers would be coaching him to behave, and that he would actually respond and cooperate, I would have thought you were nutsy.
But hidey ho, it is working.
And while I still believe in advocacy and will obviously do whatever it takes to provide the best education and opportunities for my son, I guess the lesson here is that sometimes the walls need to come down and we need to accept that alternative possibilities can work.
They may not always work.
But sometimes they do.
And I have never been so overjoyed to be so completely wrong.