My very own blog

CapturingAutism.com is my new blog home, and I’m just settling in.

I’m grateful to Insideschools.org for giving my autism stories a platform for the past four years, and although I plan to continue writing about our NYC school challenges, my son’s diagnosis has affected each and every aspect of our lives and I don’t know how not to write it all down.

The absence of an editor in this new endeavor makes me heady with independence but also fully aware that no one to answer means no one to be saved by. So consider yourself warned.

I’m not certain how often I’ll find time to write—I’ll try for shorter posts more often.

If you’re game, please enter your email address at the top right to subscribe—that’s my preferred way to keep up with blogs. Or if you’d rather you can also find me on Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, and Pinterest.

I’d be honored to have you along for the ride.

Why special ed reform misses the point

Brooks is a success story: he is a smart and happy autistic kid who has conquered many of his pervasive challenges and continues to work long and hard on the ones that persist.

But according to the Department of Education, my son is a failure. Because unless he has graduated to a less restrictive environment (LRE)—from special education to integrated, or even more desirable, all the way to mainstream—he does not earn their seal of approval. In fact, by their accounting, he is a collosal failure since he went the opposite direction: to a more restrictive environment.

For Brooks, his new setting offers him the opportunity to learn, and it seems to me that this would be everyone’s first and foremost concern. But it seems more important to the DOE that he require less and less support over the years. Now, if he was one of the small percentage of autistic kids who outgrow their challenges and get declassified, their formula would work because he wouldn’t require services. It’s only when you factor in the reality of his disability—a disability that in his case, interventions cannot inherently change—that this success measurement becomes at best, inaccurate, and at worst, a major disservice to the most special education students.

There are fortunate exceptions to this flawed logic, like the ASD Nest program, The New York Center for Autism Charter School, and the new Neighborhood Charter School of Harlem—these are excellent austism programs that neither require nor expect “graduation” from special education services. Incredulously, though, the sweeping new city-wide special education reform starting in September are not based on any of these pockets of quality education, but rather the single two-year pilot program where success was measured how? You guessed it: by how many students moved into LREs.

The DOE claims that the new reform is all about providing students with disabilities “increased access to and participation in the general education curriculum,” but I remain skeptical. After all, this is the same DOE that shamelessly beefs up their legal staff to fight off special education lawsuits instead of building appropriate schools, and it’s important not to forget that forcing special education students into mainstream classes saves them money.

The big charter school chains, often criticized for underserving special needs students, are very clear about their objectives and also proud of their record. According to one of Success Academy’s recent teaching position job postings, they believe in “graduating children out of special education services as quickly as possible.” Founder Eva Moscovitz recently revealed in a WSJ article that “about 7% of disabled students at Success Academy move out of ‘special education’ classification.” Ms. Moscowitz claims they do it “through intensive instruction.”

Is it really possible that she doesn’t understand the implications of her statement? How it infers that my husband and I and all the caring and compassionate professionals over the years that have tried to help my son, many of them doctorate-level specialists in their fields, have simply not employed enough “intensive instruction?” And that everything would be different if we had simply used more of her school’s core values: “elbow grease, grit and perseverance?

In case anyone requires additional evidence that the DOE has some misguided ideas about how to educate special needs kids, their documented research for the new reform states: “The performance of students without disabilities is not compromised by the presence of students with disabilities in their classrooms.” Until the DOE understand that special education students have the capacity to enhance classrooms, and not to compromise them, there can be no true reform.

 

This post was originally published on Inisdeschools.org.

Autism and Little League

Brooks loves baseball. The first and last thing he does every day is check the Mets score, and he could rival any grown-up rabid sports fan in terms of logging hours and hours of watching innings and innings (for better or worse).

Unfortunately, he has a lot of genetics to overcome to actually play the game. Aside from the obvious autism-related ones, he’s small and Jewish (to quote Bill Finn: “We’re watching Jewish boys/Who cannot play baseball/Play baseball.”) Still, every Sunday morning this spring, he suits up as number 11 on his Blue Sky Hawks Little League team.

Since my husband and I simply couldn’t picture him playing with his 9-12 year old peers in kid pitch, we decided to offset some of his challenges by holding him back for an extra year in coach pitch. That decision, along with the overall non-competitive style of the Hudson Cliff League, has afforded him the opportunity to succeed. Of course, baseball is no different from any other endeavor: although hard work, natural talent, and love of the game all play a major role, there’s no escaping late throws, bad bounces, and teammates who have more natural talent.

So we are especially grateful for a recent Sunday game. Brooks had been doing fine—hitting ground ball singles most at-bats. Even though this particular game didn’t start out well since his first two ground balls landed him out at first base and he had to struggle to keep from crying (that hard-to-watch upper lip tremble), his coach made a point of coming over to him to praise his good solid hits. She didn’t even know he was upset; this is just how supportively they coach.

A few short innings later, the Sky Hawks kicked it up a notch in the field, looking a lot less like the Bad News Bears than earlier in the season. One of Brooks’s smallest teammates fielded a ground ball cleanly and then threw it to first base to get the second out. I was so busy cheering I almost missed the next play—an infield pop fly to the second base bag—caught by Brooks—to end the inning. He really caught it! And I distinctly remember hearing a girl on his team say “That was awesome, Brooks!” within the chorus of congratulations.

He got beyond his sensory issues of not being able to close the glove on the ball (he doesn’t like to put his hand in all the way—in fact, he often isn’t able to sense whether his hand is all the way in or not). He got beyond the social unease of being surrounded by kids who are much less predictable than adults and often don’t have patience for his processing time. And finally, and perhaps most impressively, he got beyond his sometimes crippling anxiety in the face of expectations: all eyes were on him.

My husband is beside himself with happiness over this catch, as he should be, but I find myself holding back. I have to admit I’m jealous of his capacity to celebrate it simply for what it is without needing to connect it to our long-held hopes for Brooks to outgrow his autism. I immediately feel the need to position his sparkling moment on the baseball diamond as only the first of many mainstream settings where he will shine. I should know better given the hard lessons I’ve learned over the past few years about the pitfalls of unrealistic expectations. There were dozens of hopeful reasons to believe he could succeed in an integrated school environment, and yet it turned out it was impossible for him to be a thriving ASD Nest 1st-grader. In hindsight, we hurt him with our well-intentioned optimism. When he was unable to rise to the academic occasion, not only did his self-esteem take a hit because he was disappointed in himself, I know he must have sensed our disappointment despite our best efforts to keep it hidden.

The truth is that the longest and deepest major league home run’s got nothing on my hopes for Brooks. And even if I could manage to lower my expectations, I’d be robbing him of these kinds of baseball triumphs because he’d never get the opportunity to go out for the team.

I simply don’t know how to reconcile my son’s undeniable deficits with his undeniable strengths. All I know is how happy he was when he caught that fly ball. And maybe I don’t have to hang all my hopes on it; maybe I can just take it one game at a time.

This post was originally published on Inisdeschools.org.

Talent show trumps standardized tests

I’m happy to report that what loomed large for my son at school a few weeks ago had nothing to do with the mandatory standardized 3rd grade ELA and math tests, and everything to do with LearningSpring’s annual talent show.

To our relief, the tests were given the appropriately small amount of attention they deserve. They don’t drive the school curriculum, and their results will be refreshingly meaningless. We already know that my son is academically well-below grade level. He will get practice taking tests—not a bad thing—and no teacher will be fired because he didn’t score high enough. But I understand that our school’s common sense attitude is atypical in NYC public schools, and I support and admire Anne Stone and Jeff Nichols for taking a stance against these tests that take so much away from and contribute so little to our kids’ education.

What Brooks got out of the talent show cannot be measured by a test. He shared his love of music with the whole student body, and he experienced the teamwork of the school coming together to create a performance for their friends and families. Although the teachers and therapists were guiding them, we knew from the way Brooks had talked about rehearsals that this was their show. And from the moment the two upper grade masters of ceremonies warmly welcomed the parents, my husband and I became enchanted.

Our slightly nervous but very excited son and his classmates performed “Stereo Hearts” with all of their 2nd and 3rd grade hearts. We tapped our feet to accomplished piano and guitar concerts, we laughed at a roster of comics, and we were drawn into a standing ovation by the power of a Dream Girls ballad from one little girl with one big voice.

But before I erroneously give the impression that my husband and I have effortlessly transitioned into seeing Brooks in a special education environment vs. an integrated one, I need to admit that these nights are also tremendously difficult. The stimming, uncoordinated movements and language-based challenges were in no way hidden; in fact, they were boldly on display. And while I was unable to silence the thought that this cannot be where my son belongs, I was also unable to deny the inherent beauty in the kids’ genuine expressions.

For us school assemblies had been all about how well Brooks fit in; a lot of “you’d never know he had autism” pride, in many ways appropriate given the value of being able to function in a mainstream population. Especially knowing all too well the discriminatory habits of the world. Aside from exceptional pockets of kindness and humanity, the sad truth is that the vast majority of strangers he encounters will see his disability first and never get beyond that. I know that because that’s how I used to be. Although I was never impolite or intentionally disrespectful, I failed to recognize the actual person in the wheelchair or behind the slurred voice simply because I was too uncomfortable with the terrain. Of course the moment a gifted nursery teacher looked at Brooks all those years ago and saw the sweet toddler behind his anxiety-ridden facade, I understood that my previous awkwardness was an unaffordable luxury. That is why I believe in inclusive education, because I know I would have benefitted from it.

And so would my son’s typically-developing peers, had they been a part of the talent show evening.

Brooks’s autism forces my husband and me to examine our prejudices and to try to move beyond them. Although I don’t keep score, this is not the first upside of his disability we’ve encountered. Although it disturbs me that the very hardships that burden my son make his parents better people, it seems inescapable.

But just as inescapable is the continuous loop in my head of Brooks up on that stage with his friends in his cool black sunglasses, joyously singing and dancing away:

My heart’s a stereo
It beats for you so listen close
Hear my thoughts in every note oh-o
Make me your radio
Turn me up when you feel low
This melody meant for you
So sing along to my stereo
Oh oh oh oh oh oh oh, to my stereo
Oh oh oh oh, so sing along to my stereo
(Yeah)

This post was originally published on Inisdeschools.org.

Why exclude special education students?

When I first learned that some parents at IS 187/Christa McAuliffe were gathering signatures to fight an increased percentage of special education students enrolling at their school, I was reminded of an event from my childhood.

When I was 9 or 10 — about the same age as my son Brooks is now — neighbors came around with a petition to stop the construction of an apartment development for people with physical disabilities. I have a distinct memory of my dad’s immediate disdain for the folks at the door who were far more concerned with their property values than with anyone else’s hardships. That was way before he became the grandfather of an autistic child, or for that matter, had any personal relationship with anyone who might benefit from the new housing. It was simply a human knee-jerk reaction—he knew right from wrong, and this was wrong.

I’m having the same reaction to the campaigning Christa McAuliffe parents.

And it’s not just me—if you read the 46-and-counting comments on Meredith Kolodner’s post, you’ll find similar outrage. But you’ll also find that these parents are being defended for reasons that make a lot of sense.

There is nothing, in practice, that is good about the Department of Education’s sweeping special education reform. Theoretically it’s a winner—mandating that special education students get served in their local schools. Neither of the Manhattan neighborhoods we’ve lived in during my son’s school career were able to provide him with an appropriate public education, so I know firsthand how unpleasant it is to be excised from your local community. The problem is that there is no accounting for where the money is coming from to support these kids. Schools that base their admissions on high test scores and offer rigorous academics are suddenly being forced to take these students without any answers about how this will work. Apparently, schools will be hiring more special education teachers, but it’s all vague and non-specific.  And since it’s already April, parents’ concerns for next year are not misguided.

Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that some gifted schools and charter schools have been exempted from these mandates.

The DOE is clearly not doing its job, but that’s hardly a new story. It has tortured every single special education parent I know. Without exception.

As for the IS 187 parents, I’ve lived in this test-score-obsessed city for too long to be genuinely surprised by their behavior.

Am I really not to take offense when they argue that “there will be children who will be crushed who could have gotten into Christa McAuliffe who will have to be in a regular general education class at another school instead?” A regular general education program has been summarily denied to special education students for years by the DOE, so just to offer a smattering of perspective here: what they’re alleging would “crush” their kids is often our kids’ best case scenario.

And unfortunately, I know all too well that Virginia Cantone is not alone in her sentiment that “no parent is going to want their kid in those classes.” She is clearly convinced that my son, with his inferior test scores, has nothing to offer her child except to slow things down, and that “the truth of the matter is that the wide spectrum of challenges is too great for any of the children to learn, it’s too great of a difference.”

Of course there is a challenge in teaching to different abilities when the gaps are wide, but it can be done and done well: Meredith Kolodner singles out the NYC Lab School for Collaborative Studies as a good example.

Anecdotes from principals and teachers in inclusion schools are encouraging. As long as there are sufficient resources, all the kids at all levels get better educations. And it turns out that test scores and IEPs [Individualized Education Programs], although they obviously play a role, are not the best predictors of which students become the most successful. What often matters more is self-esteem and emotional stability. And on that front, the special education population has an advantage since they’ve been getting help with both for most of their lives.

There’s not a lot of gray area here: perhaps these parents believe they’re acting in their children’s best interest, but the reality is that they are engaging in discrimination. Most of it is thinly veiled, but some is out in the open, as in a commenter referring to spreading around “the burden of students with special needs.” Interesting that no one refers to the G&T kids as burdens, even though they have atypical learning styles.

That physically handicapped apartment complex in my hometown that my dad fought for was finally built in the early 1970’s. It became a driving force for development of similar community housing. Wouldn’t it be something if 40 years from now, Brooks and his special education peers could look back to this moment in time when the tide changed for them in New York City public schools?

 

This post was originally published on Inisdeschools.org.

Don’t underestimate the arts

There is an inherent irony in this artistic mecca we call New York City when it comes to the Education Department’s arts education policies. Insideschool’s own Judy Baum reported that although there is no lack of good arts education programs, “46% of elementary schools do not meet the state standards in the arts.”  Insideschools alum and Gotham Schools writer Philissa Cramer highlighted that “about 20 percent of schools do not employ a single arts teacher, even for a part-time position.”

Not surprisingly, the arts become the first casualties as both local and national educational trends focus more and more on standardized testing. And when you factor in shrinking budgets and classroom space, the situation gets even worse.

I find these developements especially disturbing since I was brought up in a household that viewed the arts as a basic human need, right up there with food, shelter, and clothing.

Moss Hart, a famous playwright who grew up poor in the Bronx and Brooklyn in the 1920’s, recalls a similarly arts-centered upbringing. In his memoir, Act One, he recalls that his family never considered giving up the theater, even though “I can well remember the times we went to bed in the dark because there was no quarter to put in the gas meter; or even more vividly, some evening meals eaten by candlelight for the same reason…We were grateful for this small patch of lunatic brightness in the unending drabness of those years.”

Fortunately, every school Brooks has gone to has had rich arts programs. From his music therapy program in pre-K at CDC led by the extraordinary Judi Rubin Bosco, he moved on to PS 178 and benefitted from Little Orchestra Society, Cool Culture, and two outstanding art and music teachers, Ms. Gomez and Ms. Uffer, that elevated every school assembly. And finally, LearningSpring has a strong art and music presence, including a dance, art, and music therapy program new this year and a much-touted annual talent show that we hope Brooks will grace with his dance moves.

Brooks also gets a lot of arts exposure after school: private piano lessons, Broadway shows (and Off and Off-Off), museums, and one of our favorite family activites, “Broadway Playhouse.” Sean Hartley and his diversely-talented band of players introduce children of all ages to Broadway composers through sketches and songs. Since my husband and I have spent many years writing musicals, this is a natural for us. But also for anyone who remembers their high school musical role fondly (which I’m guessing exempts my blogger colleague Elementary Dad given his latest post). There is a simple nostalgic charm that comes with participating in a Rodgers and Hammerstein sing-along with your kids:

There’s a bright golden haze on the meadow,
There’s a bright golden haze on the meadow,
The corn is as high as an elephant’s eye,
An’ it looks like its climbin’ clear up to the sky.

Oh what a beautiful morning,
Oh what a beautiful day,
I’ve got a wonderful feeling,
Everything’s going my way.

There is a humanity in these artistic experiences that New York City kids deserve.

Albert Einstein had a sign in his Princeton office that read: “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” Perhaps Chancellor Walcott should take note.

 

This post was originally published on Inisdeschools.org.

Tiny moments that change your life

Nothing bad happened to us this fall.

Except that one day when I took Brooks down to his little yellow school bus and then got to work, I got a breaking news message on my phone that there was a fire in midtown. And because I am too neurotic  to ignore these digital intrusions, a quick search on Twitter confirmed the story. It was near Macy’s and there were flame-filled pictures (thank you, Twitter). Apparently, what was on fire was a school bus. A little one, just like the one Brooks rides.

Even the initial reports said there were no injuries and that the bus was empty, but that didn’t stop my  heart rate from quickening. His school was too close and so was the timing.

A swift phone call to his school revealed that all the buses were there safely. Of course.

I could now exhale and return to my more routine Brooks-related worries. When I was helping him with homework recently, although he was able to read to me beautifully, he was completely lost when I asked him how many sentences he had just read. Although my husband and I have come to accept that academics will always be hard for Brooks, it is still shocking to us that he has trouble with such a simple concept.

But what is new this year is that with enough patience, we’re able to help him find a path to the answer. Breaking it down into questions like “What do sentences end with?” and then “So how many periods are there in what you just read?” really help him figure it out. We’re also noticing that Brooks will now take the time he needs to think about what he’s being asked, and we understand that all this progress is largely due to his smaller and gentler new school.

Of course, I’d be lying if I said we didn’t have long-term concerns about his college prospects, or for that matter his likelihood of finding a partner in life given his horrendous table manners and his intense preoccupation with NFL football stats on any given Sunday, Monday or any other day of the week.

These are not baseless worries, but they certainly lost their steam on that “school bus” morning—during that tiny moment of panic that was there and then gone. And so I am thankful for it. But I am also haunted by it because I am intimately familiar with the power of tiny moments. My son’s autism diagnosis and 9/11 were two that radically changed the course of lives—mine and others—and they too were unexpected and started out like any other day.

But this one passed. And so this year, as Brooks lights the Chanukah candles, I will be reminded of how our fragile and beautiful our lives are. Happy holidays.

 

This post was originally published on Inisdeschools.org.

Fighting for an appropriate education

Brooks is proof that getting a special needs child an appropriate public education here in New York City is possible. But then again, so is winning the lottery.

For a special education parent, the Department of Education is very similar to an insurance company: you’re dealing with a large bureaucracy that has an inherent interest not to help you. Your HMO needs to make a profit and the DOE needs to balance a budget; your needs are, at best, an obstacle.

Although by law, the DOE is mandated to provide an appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment, their actions consistently support a different standard: the least expensive education. Whether they are re-organizing the special education administration once again, promising reforms without realistic implementation plans or hiring attorneys to fight the lawsuits of the parents they are failing, it would be a leap of faith to suggest they have every child’s best interest at heart.

When Brooks was deferred to Central Based Support Team (CBST), which is what happens when the DOE concedes there is no public program for your child, we had several options: 1) A non-funded private school, for which we would have to hire a lawyer and sue the DOE for tuition each year, 2) A publicly funded private school for which the DOE pays a contracted tuition rate, or 3) Keep him where he was, even though, despite the staff’s best efforts, he was anxious and he wasn’t learning.

We determined very quickly that we could not afford the first option: we knew from other parents that regardless of whether you win or lose the annual lawsuit, you need to pay the full tuition out of pocket. And you generally only get a percentage back.

Even the remaining option had its challenges. Since there is always a gap between the DOE contracted rate and the actual cost of educating your child, many of the publicly funded privates ask the parents to donate the difference, which is easily in the thousands of dollars each year. There are some exceptions—and that’s what we were hoping for.

Our CBST caseworker told us she would send Brooks’ paperwork “to all the appropriate schools. And if a school wants to interview Brooks, we’ll pay for car service as long as you give us sufficient notice.”

Hmm…was the DOE truly going to help us with this process?

Our cautious optimism began to unravel fairly quickly. Our follow-up with one school revealed that the DOE had never sent the paperwork. Next, I began getting calls from schools I suspected were inappropriate for Brooks; one was three hours away via public transportation. Still, I took a morning off work and took the tour myself without Brooks. As I had suspected, although it was a good school, it was not appropriate for him.

At this point that the DOE’s “help” went from bad to worse. Our caseworker advised me to take Brooks to visit the school even though I had already ruled it out. In a phone call that practically brought me to tears, I asked her to explain how that would possibly be in anyone’s best interest. Where is the logic in pulling Brooks out of school for a visit that would naturally make him anxious to a school my husband and I realized was not the right fit?

She responded that if I didn’t take Brooks, it was her job to report to the Committee on Special Education that we didn’t follow through with this school. This was her job? I thought her job was to help get my son an appropriate education.

At this point, any shred of optimism we had left with regards to the DOE disintegrated. They had now morphed back into the unfeeling bureaucratic giant that threatened our son’s well-being. And by now there were at least two inappropriate schools that they wanted me to take Brooks to visit!

A lawyer we consulted with agreed that it would not be in our best interest to refuse to take Brooks to the visits: she suggested having the schools call the DOE to rescind their requests to see him, and also to plead our case in writing to our caseworker. Thankfully, the schools agreed and they took care of it.

Despite a stressfully uncertain spring and summer, our number one choice, Learning Spring offered Brooks a spot in the final week of August. They apologized for the lengthy admission process—the DOE didn’t approve their additional classroom until the 11th hour.

Alas, our happy ending is not the norm. Many parents with limited resources don’t understand what their special needs children are entitled to, much less how to go about fighting for it.

I have often thanked the DOE for funding my son’s education: from pre-K and outside therapies to the ASD Nest program. But I am finally realizing that I shouldn’t be thanking them any more than any neighborhood parent who sends their child to a public school. In fact, they should be apologizing to me because they have no appropriate program for my son.

Actually, I want something better than an apology: I want them to start doing their job.

I’m generally a “glass half full” kind of person, but I also never deny that the glass is half empty. For those of us whose kids are unlike their typical peers, there is plenty of pain and suffering to go around, and for the DOE to pile on more is simply adding insult to injury.

Although we special education parents have been beaten down by a system that has been broken for many years, we’re a resilient bunch. Our kids need the DOE to be fixed, so somehow, we’ll figure out how to fix it. Ideas, anyone?

 

This post was originally published on Inisdeschools.org.

What you can do for your school

I am a lousy PA parent. I watch in awe as my peers chair meetings, organize bake sales, get street permits for carnivals, and write grants for enrichment programs, all the while juggling jobs and multiple children and various and sundry overwhelming challenges and responsibilities. I honestly don’t know how they do it.

Although I manage to attend some meetings and sell my appropriate quota of raffle tickets, I am fully aware of my shortcomings in this area. And as education budgets continue to get cut, this kind of grassroots organizing is becoming more important than ever. I love the idea of supporting my school—I’m simply not very good at much of the above.

Luckily, I have an excellent role model in my house who has been compensating for his weaknesses and leveraging his strengths for as long as I can remember: Brooks. Taking a page from his play book, I try to contribute in less traditional ways. What I am good at is building websites, so my husband and I started ShopForCharityNow.com back in 2007 which raises money for charities, including schools.

To date, the site has raised over $3,000 for quite a wide range of good causes, including the Red Cross, Autism Speaks, The Michael J. Fox Foundation, and, last but not least, InsideSchools.org! Gillen Brewer is now on our list, and most recently, Learning Spring. If you’d like to add your school, simply send us an email.

The “gotcha” is that we generally raise money in pretty small amounts. But this year, there is an especially appealing promotion: if you purchase a single $20 sheet of PhotoStamps (real postage with a personal photo), your charity gets $15!

“Groucho Brooks,” pictured above, will grace our holiday cards this year, and I was able to effortlessly help out my school. Please join me and do the same for your school!

Author’s Note: My husband and I now donate 100% of the funds that come in to ShopForCharityNow.com. If you’d like to support a charity or shop at a store that we don’t list, please check out GoodShop.com or IGive.com—these kinds of philanthropic websites won’t cost you any extra money, and are a great way to trigger automatic donations with purchases you were already going to make.

 

This post was originally published on Inisdeschools.org.

Starting over at a new school

“How’s Brooks doing at the new school?”

That is the number one question I get these days, and the answer is: “Really, really good.”

But it comes with an asterisk: “So far.” This necessary clarification has nothing to do with the quality of the new school and everything to do with the déjà vu that I can’t seem to shake. The ASD Nest program was “really really good” for him too, until suddenly, it wasn’t.

It feels a little like being afraid to trust your new boyfriend when your old one, the one you were madly in love with, broke your heart. To belabor the metaphor, your old boyfriend didn’t do anything wrong—he treated you well, he never cheated on you, and looking back on it, you know he wasn’t “the one”—you don’t even miss him that much anymore! And yet, arms-length feels like the right distance between you and the new guy.

I have to admit, though, that even through our cautiously-optimistic-colored glasses, Learning Spring seems pretty extraordinary. The anxiety Brooks experienced at the PS 178 ASD Nest Program is gone. Totally gone (and we would have been happy with “improved!”). Chalk it up to the new environment of eight children in a class and an approach that values socialization as much as academics.

The teachers and administrators are warm, responsive and nurturing (both to the parents and the kids!), and a very passionate and active PA not only fundraises but also functions as a parent support group.

Our son’s tuition to this new private school, which we could not afford on our own, is paid for by the Department of Education. This makes us part of a select group of parents who don’t have to pay a lawyer to sue the DOE for a recommendation to “defer to the Central Based Support Team (CBST),” which in layman’s terms means they admit they have no appropriate place for your child within the public school system. I suppose we should be thankful for this, but the bureaucracy that is the DOE that has proven to us time and time again that they have little genuine interest in our son’s education. Brooks ended up at Learning Spring in spite of their efforts as much as because of them—but that is a subject for a future post.

The most important thing is that Brooks did end up at Learning Spring. As the days and weeks go by, I know that my husband and I will let down our defenses; in fact, there are already cracks in the armor. We couldn’t help but be deeply moved when during curriculum night, a parent broke down when she spoke about how, for the first time in her son’s life, she thought he might actually be able to make a friend.

We know that Brooks was lucky to get a spot here and that we are lucky to be a part of this community. But the truth is that we’re still too damaged right now to fully embrace it.

The good news is it’s only October.

 

This post was originally published on Inisdeschools.org.

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