I am in love with my son’s new school. It’s both a schoolgirl crush and real, ripe, grown-up love: I often find myself smiling for no particular reason, even as this mature, substantive stabilizing force eases me into a good night’s sleep.
There are only 6 children in my son’s classroom, and they all have autism. He has an extraordinary teacher, several assistant teachers, an occupational therapist, a speech therapist, a counselor, and a physical therapist, and almost every day he gets adaptive PE, music and art.
At least once a week, supervisors from Hunter College, who originally created the ASD Nest program, visit the classroom and advise the staff on each child’s individual intervention plans. These highly educated professionals possess a wealth of casework experience with autistic kids: they know what works and what doesn’t.
It was not an easy process to get this placement. My husband and I investigated virtually every type of kindergarten within the 5 boroughs that was open to children with autism, in both in the private and public realms: mainstream, integrated, and special needs. Starting in September 2007, we immersed ourselves — evaluations and paperwork and tours and interviews and special ed attorney consultations. It wasn’t until late April, when Nest was finally confirmed, that we were able to cancel our Plan B — move to Westchester because there simply would have been no other appropriate placement for our son in NYC. (We did move uptown, to be closer to the school.) Other committed parents in our situation are all too familiar with this long, relentless, and too-often fruitless process (detailed here by an astute special needs teacher), and most put in the same due diligence that we did. But we also got lucky. Like anything else in life, hard work brings more opportunities, but luck plays a role.
A part of me still believes we’re living inside of a fantasy, that this school can’t really exist in the same NYC Department of Education that’s challenged with overcrowding and ineffective teachers and principals and low test scores and nightmare-inducing special needs classes.
But it’s already October; this has gone on too long to be a dream. I’m wide awake and my son is learning how to overcome his challenges and make his own way in the world. There I go, smiling again.