Saturday, November 5, 2011

Great...what did he do now?

When we lived in Oklahoma, we tried to send our son to public school.  Our reasoning was that he needed socialization skills and after many years of Montessori school we were looking forward to not having a tuition bill every month.  The public school he would attend had a good reputation and everyone we talked to spoke very highly of the entire experience.  So, needless to say, we were excited when second grade rolled around.

The excitement didn't last long.  When my son acted up, we got a call from the school.  From early on, I was receiving at least one call per week.  Toward the end of the semester, I was receiving daily calls.  The calls were from the teacher, the assistant, or the principal (or on a particularly bad day, all three) calling to let me know I had to either pick up my son from school early, or that we needed to have a meeting, or for some other reason that was behavioral related.   Whenever the phone rang and the caller id said that it was the school calling, my automatic thought was, "Great...what did he do know?"  Unfortunately, he was not being challenged enough, and as the saying goes, idle hands are the devil's playground. 

By the end of the first semester, he was removed from the school.  Honestly, I cannot remember if it was our choice or if the school politely and firmly "suggested" that we try a different system, but either way, in January, he was attending a different school...and the tuition payments resumed.

Our outlook was bleak, but some pretty heavy duty cosmic/karmic signs made us realize that the school we were looking at was the one for our son.  For example, when my wife and I were checking out the campus, the second grade had only one spot open.  That spot was in Mrs. "P.'s" class.  When we entered the classroom, I noticed a map of Africa on the wall.  The only part of the map that was written on was the area of Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire.  I asked the Admissions person about the...umm...writing on the wall; she was not sure of the reasoning, but she thought Mrs. P. may have taught in a school in Abidjan.  I met my wife in Abidjan when we were not even teenagers yet.  Both of our parents were stationed in Abidjan, and as most American kids of US Diplomats, we attended the same American school.  The school we went to (in 1982), had a teacher there (in the lower grades) named...are you ready for this?...wait for it...Mrs. P.  At first we figured it was just a coincidence, but after looking through our yearbook (yes, from 1982), we found two Mrs. P.'s that could possibly be a match.  So, when we set up the parent-teacher meeting, we brought the yearbook.

Now, don't forget, at this time we are in in "Okla-out in the middle of nowhere-homa."  The middle of the United States...the closest major city is three hours away.  You can drive for hundreds of miles and still not get anywhere...Don't get me wrong, I loved it there, but to meet someone who lived in Maryland was a very rare, we are talking about a completely different continent!  Anyway, we asked which Mrs. P she was, and the memories suddenly flowed out as she thumbed through the black and white photos of kids photocopied onto white pages and glued into something slightly resembling a book.  Yes, Mrs. P taught at the very school that my wife and I attended, and during the same years we were there, when we were 11 and 12 years West Africa.  (And, it turns out her son and husband played softball on the same weekend leagues that my dad and I were playing on at that time....)

So, when a sign this big is in front of you, you read it and you pay attention.  The following two years at this school were awesome.  Our son never had any major issues, his abilities were challenged, he grew mentally, and he was successful.  I did receive a call or two regarding his behavior, and I still responded with the thought of, "Great, what did he do now?" but those calls were few and far in between.  This school was perfect for him and life was good.

Then, we took a few giant steps backward...

When we moved to North Carolina, we looked at a few private schools, and found that most were not accepting new students.  Our third choice was a Montessori style school.  We figured our son would be comfortable with the setting since that was how he spent his first few educational years.  We failed to recognize the signs this time...

When the school takes two months to decide if they are going to admit your child, don't do it.  That big flashing neon sign that is essentially saying "WE DON'T WANT TO ACCEPT YOUR CHILD!!!" is a sign that you need to pay attention to.  We didn't.  Sitting in the carpool line, waiting to pick up my son and seeing the teacher walk toward my car...getting a call from the teacher or principal saying I need to pick up my son early...wondering if I am going to get a random, that is not my idea of a good time.  As soon as the teacher took one step toward my car..."Great, what did he do now?"  Three months after admission, we were looking for a new school after being asked to leave.

The next school was nice.  It had a great campus, a good feel to it, and seemed like a great first.  Three weeks later (but no phone calls or walking up to the car), our son was dismissed, again.  Great, what did he do now?  But, the only answer we received was that he had two incidents of disruptive behavior.  Hmm, why didn't we get a call about those?

So, with less than two months remaining in the school year, I took over and tried to teach him what I could.  Trust me, neither of us (me or my son), found this to be the optimum choice!  But, at least he didn't get dismissed from this school, and at least I didn't walk up to my car to tell myself what he did this time...

We started looking for other schools as soon as possible.  Two of our choices were already full, so they put us on a waiting list.  Obviously, we did not have time to wait.  We found a local private school that is specifically for kids with Asperger's.  Homerun, right?  Nope.  However, the admissions director was a huge help and a source of hope for us.  I do not recall the last time I had so much hope after being rejected!  She, the admissions director, suggested that we work on the emotional side of our son before attending the Aspie school.  We had two possibilities left...take a chance on one other local private school that caters to kids with special needs and tailors the curriculum to the individual student...(but this came with a very high tuition cost and no financial aid) or, our other option was to send him to a camp that cost just as much but had a loan program, and it would mean he would be away from us for six to eight weeks at a minimum.  Neither option was ideal, to say the least.

However, what we think is not ideal is sometimes the best option regardless of what possibilities there are or are not...

We opted for the local school.  We had to dissolve a retirement account to fund the tuition, but we knew something like this would have to be done.  We also knew that our son was not a problem child and the outbursts were simply his way of releasing his loneliness and frustrations related the the move to NC.  We saw the drastic change before, but it went from being bored and being a troublemaker to being a straight A student and being excited to attend class.  The change from public school to private school in Oklahoma happened almost overnight.  The right teacher and setting made the biggest difference in the world.  Holding on to hope with barely enough grip to keep it alive, we hoped the change would happen again with the new private school in NC.

Around the second week of school, I was waiting in the carpool line to pick up my son.  The teacher, "Ms. H", started walking toward the car with her hand on my son's shoulder.  "Great, what did he do this time?" I couldn't help it, it was something that became a bad habit and something I wished hadn't become a part of his schooling experience.  I rolled down the window, afraid of what she was going to say.  She wanted to tell me how well my son was doing in school and how well he was adapting.  Huh?  Come again...Did she just come to the car to tell me he was doing well?  Through the puddling tears welling up in my eyes, I think I must have looked like she shot me with a stun gun because that is how I felt.  She came out to the car to tell me good news!  And the best part, it has happened a few more times since then.

Although it hurts every time I write the check, the tuition payment is a pill that is a heck of a lot easier to swallow knowing that my son is receiving the education that is needed for him.  The relief of not having the school think my son is a problem child and that they see his potential and are able to teach accordingly is well worth the money. Once again, almost overnight, my son is excelling in school because we were fortunate enough to find the right school for where he is in his life at the moment.  We recognize, too, that we are lucky to be able to find a way to make private education an option.  BUT -- you don't have to be rich to make this happen.  Scholarships, financial aid...and even some divine intervention.  The right things come along when they are needed.

If you are reading this and are in the Charlotte, NC area, and want more information, please send me an e-mail and I will be happy to share what information I have.  If you have a child who is being labeled as a problem, or may have issues with school, I encourage you to dig a little deeper to see if there is a school near you that will be a better fit.  The difference is truly amazing and cannot be expressed in words.

Disclaimer...(Yes, its a repeat of the last one...but the blog above is new!) First, let me say that I am not a specialist in Asperger's Syndrome, nor do I play one on TV. What I write or say are strictly my own personal observations and beliefs, so please do not sue me because I said something that made you do something that caused a misdiagnosis, or created a problem, or made you do something stupid. Have accountability, go see a professional, and leave my finances alone...besides, you really wouldn't get much anyway, so its probably not worth your time to call the lawyer on the back of the phone book to see if you have a case. Spend that time more wisely, like figuring out how to subscribe to my blog...and don't ask me about that because I'm not even sure how it works! Seriously, though, if some of the things I say seem like they sound very familiar in your family, set up an appointment with a true professional. While you are waiting for their callback, please, continue reading and leave a note!