It was summer 2009.
I remember so little anymore, but I remember that summer so well.
I was freshly divorced and trying hard to put my life back together.
To add insult to injury, I was trying to learn how to manage raising two kids, one of whom has autism, on my own.
So I attended Zion’s IEP meeting with the public school…by myself.
I have never felt so alone.
The principal, Mr. Smith, explained to me that at the time, there were only two options for Zion.
In 2009 those options were general education or special education.
Mr. Smith went on to explain that kids like Zion are difficult to place because often their intelligence level is too high for a special education classroom, but their behavior is too erratic to fit into a general education classroom.
He explained that unless new options became available in the near future, Zion would likely get lost in the system.
My heart sank.
The speech therapist, Vicki, went on to say that I may have to face the fact that Zion might never speak.
I didn’t hear another word anyone said after that.
My son was being sentenced to a mute life, in a special education classroom?
I cried and ruminated about it for a month.
Then one day I just decided I wasn’t going to allow it.
If the public school system wasn’t equipped to offer appropriate options for Zion, then I would find someone who could.
That summer is when I discovered ABA therapy.
Say what you like.
I’ve heard it all.
ABA therapy isn’t school. I’m catering to his social awkwardness and explosive behaviors. Being out of the school setting should be considered truancy. He needs to learn how to adjust in the real world.
Yeah well, guess what.
I couldn’t possibly care less what anyone else thinks is best or right for my kid.
So I pulled him out of public school.
And I enrolled him in full time ABA therapy.
Then to get around the truancy issue, I said I home-schooled him.
It was the only solution.
It was expensive. It took my entire family to get him there some days.
But I, WE, did what had to be done to get Zion full-time help. And over the course of eight years, those ABA therapists were able to reach Zion in ways that the public school system was not equipped for at the time.
This past January we were able to transition Zion back into a modified public school setting.
Zion has come a long way in his behaviors, his speech, and his academic abilities.
The public school system has also come a long way with the options they are able to offer to kids on the autism spectrum.
There aren’t just two choices anymore.
Depending on the school district, there are sometimes 5 or 6 options… because educators are learning that not all kids fit into the same two little pre-fabbed boxes.
Zion spent this semester in a one-room school house type setting, with just a handful of other kids in his class.
He adapted very quickly.
Sure, there were a few hiccups.
But he has a teacher who adores him and believes he has great potential.
So she has pushed him. And sheltered him. And given him a safe space to be his unique self, with the understanding that he has to take other people’s interests and space into consideration as well.
His first report card: straight A’s.
This past week I went to his IEP meeting for the 2017-2018 school year.
I always have a fair amount of anxiety and trepidation before attending those meetings, because of the experience in 2009.
But as I sat in that meeting, I listened to his teacher, his speech therapist, the school psychologist…all of these professionals telling me what an amazing kid I have and how well he has done.
And that it is time for him to move on.
To the junior high.
My face fell into my hands and I sobbed.
Junior High? Isn’t this the kid who was never supposed to talk? And might get lost in the school system?
So I removed him, figured out an alternative way to reach him, and ultimately reached our goal.
Let me tell you a little story and then I’ll shut up.
When was a kid, we lived out in the country, so there was a lot of land to mow.
One day dad came in the house and told me to put on some old clothes and shoes.
He was going to teach me how to use the riding mower.
Oh man, I thought I was the coolest. I was DRIVING.
Yes, it was a lawn mower, but I didn’t care.
It had a steering wheel and tires, so it counted.
There was an oddly shaped patch of grass that was a bit difficult to get to, and as hard as I tried, I couldn’t quite steer right back into the mowing lines.
I looked up and saw dad walking toward me, motioning for me to shift down.
“Uh oh,” I thought, “I’m getting kicked off.”
Dad explained that I was going at it from the wrong angle.
He directed me to steer away from the patch, get myself turned around, and then head back at it. Dad said, “See sometimes, you have to actually go in the opposite direction of your goal to reach it.”
It’s the same with Zion.
It may have appeared as though we were going in the opposite direction of the goal…for a while.
But doing so is exactly what got us to our goal.
Next stop: Junior High.