Monday, May 9, 2011

It's All About the Schools

Dealing with an autistic child is never easy. What can make a world of difference is having a good staff in schools to rely on. When Devlin first started school I knew there were things wrong with him. I couldn't get anyone to listen to me though.  I could see that not only was behaving strangely socially, he had obvious problems with academics. During my son's Kindergarten year, when these things should have been noticed by staff, my son's teacher went out on maternity leave early. In the wake of her absence were a series of substitute teachers. My concerns were passed off to the next person, or not, and nothing was ever done about having him evaluated. At the end of the school year we moved from North Carolina to Florida. Devlin's first grade year proved to be a better experience. His teacher recognized the issues he was having and put him in for testing. This would be the first time we heard Asperger's or Autism in relation to our son.

While we were in Florida, things smoothed out a little more for Devlin, the teachers and staff at the school there were phenomenal for how they dealt with him. unfortunately we were a military family and our three years in Key West came and went rather quickly. We moved back to North Carolina. It was not a happy move. The kids and I definitely did not want to be there anymore, and the schools just made it that much worse. 

I will say that even in the worst schools and school systems there are always some bright spots. My son' fourth grade teachers were on the ball with him. Mrs. Davis - his reading teacher - was instrumental in getting my son to read. He started reading to impress her and took off with it. It became a passion of his for a while. His other teacher also recognized that Devlin had some problems. Apparently, there was a problem with getting all of my son's information from the Florida schools and while they were aware that he should have an IEP for his learning disability with writing, they were unaware of his previous Asperger's diagnosis. 

During our first parent/teacher conference Mr. Kidd asked me if Devlin had ever been diagnosed with anything in the Autism spectrum. He approached me on the subject very cautiously, obviously unsure how I would respond. I think I breathed a sigh of relief and then so did Mr. Kidd. He explained to me that one of his friends had a child diagnosed with Asperger's who reminded him a lot of Devlin. Mr. Kidd pushed to have Devlin evaluated further. Because of his pushing, Devlin was able to go through testing with TEACCH in Greenville, NC. 

Devlin's diagnosis changed a bit, from Asperger's to high functioning Autism. I still do not understand the differences, as these issues are all very closely related and do in fact fall under the same umbrella, Autism Spectrum Disorder.  As Devlin's behavior began deteriorating over the next year and a half it was clear that not enough was being done. Devlin's new group of teachers were the opposite of helpful. In some ways they made amplified his symptoms by the way they were treating him. They were refusing to utilize the Resource staff to help out with Devlin and instead were berating him openly in the classroom.

Because of Devlin's downward spiral, we began seeing a therapist and going through more testing. Again, therapy is something that works or it doesn't. As important as it is to find the best schools and staff for dealing with Autistic children, the same can be said for therapists. The woman who worked with us initially was horrible. She missed a lot and refused to do anything about some very serious situations. My son's guidance counselor at the school was more helpful than the original counselor my son went to. After talking to his pediatrician about the seriousness of his behaviors, Devlin was placed in a hospital setting for a week for evaluation. He was started on medications that made a world of difference.

Medications are not the be all end all or a cure in any way for the problems that are associated with Autism, but they help make those problems manageable when they are really bad. Around the same time that all this was happening medically I had decided to remove my son from that school, because there were no alternative teachers available. I began homeschooling Devlin, which had its own set of issues. Thanks to his new medicine that was leveling out his behavior, Devlin could no longer focus long enough to do his school work. Many medications have side effects, my sons medication had the unfortunately side effect of making him ADD/ADHD on top of everything else.

By the next school year, when he was ready for sixth grade, we moved to South Carolina. The middle school he attends here has been amazing. The staff is amongst the most caring that I have ever had the pleasure of working with. This is where I say, it is all about the schools. You can not raise a child with problems like those associated with Autism without a very good support system. His middle school has been instrumental in helping me maintain my sanity while dealing with my sons increasing problems. The school has bent over backwards to help my son adjust and to make sure he is successful. They have even begun a trial program where my son was taken out of some of the worst classes, behavior wise, and placed into advanced courses. They understood that he was reacting to other students behaviors and being placed with a different caliber of children has had a positive impact on his ability to learn in a class he seemed to be struggling with. Whereas he used to be listed as having a learning disability in math and writing he has now been downgraded in math. He has done exceptionally well in math testing and his grades have begun improving. Hope can be a very tangible thing. Seeing the success in this one area helps us to keep going during the darker days and the school deserves the credit for giving that hope to a family who so very desperately needed it.

Not everyone can afford to move to a new school district, but I encourage other parents with children who have issues to stay on top of the staff in your schools. If they aren't doing enough for your child, do not be afraid to demand they do more, be sure to do it nicely though. If there is a school known for being better with children who have difficulties, talk to the school board and see what it will take to get your child transfered. The right staff, the right school, people who care, they all mean a world of difference for children with these disabilities. In my family's case, it was all about the schools!

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