Author’s Note: All quotes below about my son’s program are are from a recent article, “The ASD Nest Program” in “Teaching Exceptional Children,” a peer-reviewed journal in the special education world.
On Sept. 9, the first day of school, Brooks became an official “Nester.”
What that means is that he successfully transitioned from last year’s Intensive K, a self-contained class of six kids on the autism spectrum, to a Nest K, an integrated class with 12 students, four of them autistic. Without taking anything away from how hard Brooks worked last year and how hard his teachers and therapists worked to get him to this next level, I would be remiss not to also acknowledge the good fairy who seems to have perched herself on my little boy’s shoulders ever since his diagnosis, and who is thankfully choosing to stick around for another year.
Although my husband and I have always been philosophically inclined towards an inclusion special ed model, we also fully understand how difficult it is to implement such a model effectively. Not only do the ASD Nest folks get it right, they make it look easy.
I believe their success is a product of two key elements. Firstly, they are overwhelmingly positive: “ASD Nest staff provide reinforcement generously throughout the day by making a point to ‘catch them being good,’ responding to students’ positive behavior or attempts to engage in more appropriate behavior.” Secondly, the tenets of the Nest curriculum provide an extraordinary education not only to the autistic kids, but also to the general population. Nest principal Dolores Troy-Quinn of PS 186 in Queens explained it this way: “The Nest program has acted like a big rock that is tossed into a pond. The excellent structures and strategies learned in this program have spread to include the entire school community.”
If my husband and I had the opportunity to design a specific program for our son this year, tailored exactly to his needs, we’d ask for precisely what he’s getting. Specifically, Nest’s approach to teaching Brooks how to navigate the social landscape with typically-developing peers: “The first critical step in the process […] is identifying peers who display some mutual interest in each other. […] The teacher then facilitates the relationship by providing multiple opportunities for the children involved to interact (e.g., seating them next to one another, putting them together for paired reading, making them line partners, assigning them jointly to classroom jobs and errands).” These are the same kind of baby step strategies that have worked so well for Brooks in the past. We believe they will rescue him from the fate of always being uncomfortable and unskilled socially, and instead offer him a future full of rich friendships that he has enough confidence to pursue and maintain.
Last week, while I watched throngs of children being dismissed from school and waited patiently for Brooks to appear, I had in my mind a picture of a younger child who would come and greet me. I was taken aback by how big and tall he looked, just like his peers. And strong. He’s gotten through the first month of the new school year and all its changes with hardly a glitch.
The “Nest” part of the program’s name derives from the idea of a nurturing home. It is clearly responsible for so much of Brooks’s progress and maturity, and I look forward to another year of basking in its warmth and comfort.