He got diagnosed with Autism… now what? Should they keep him in the typical preschool where he can learn from his peers, and learn how to conform to a typical environment? Or, find a private, specialized school with professors that aid with his very specific differences and have students that are more like him? This was a big decision with various opinions.
Despite my sister, Kelly, and her husband, Ray, living in a beautiful suburb in New Jersey, they felt their public school system was not the environment they wanted Street to receive his education from; Autistic or not. It was clear to them that given their unique set of circumstances, a private school was the best option, at least for now. After some research, they found the most prestigious institute that New York City had to offer. A private school, working with children who have learning differences; a place where the word “Autism” was not used. The focus was facilitating language and social skills in a small classroom setting where each student received undivided attention. The school was called Parkside.
Although this was the perfect solution to Street’s elementary level schooling needs, my sister and her husband knew this option was only feasible until fifth grade. At that time, a new decision would have to be made for his middle school and high school years. The plan at this time was to cross that bridge when they got to it. Off to private school.
Street thrived in the small classroom environment. There was peace of mind in knowing that speech, behavioral and occupational therapies were offered right at school. But, it seemed fifth grade came very quickly.. Again, Kelly and Ray were left wondering, now what? Where is everyone at his private school going to go? Who would help them figure this out? They consulted with Parkside, who made a few recommendations. One was the Windsor Learning Center, a school for children with learning and behavioral problems. Ultimately, that is where Street went for 6th and 7th grade, as their public school was still not an option.
It was clear almost immediately that this was not the right fit for Street. It may have been for other children, but it was simply not what Street needed. He seemed to regress, and acquire more negative behaviors. At home, he began to engage in fire starting behaviors, became incontinent, started hitting family members when he did not get his way, and seemed unable to regulate his emotions. Unfortunately, the list goes on and on. At this point it was obvious that ready or not, it was time to look for a new school.
After much deliberation and searching, a friend recommended Chamberlain International School, a co-educational therapeutic boarding school in Massachusetts. This was a difficult decision because it would ultimately mean Street moving away from his family. Despite the painful thought of him living away from home, they felt this was the best decision for Street.
After a few short months, Kelly and Ray learned that this school was not the right fit for Street, either. He was surrounded by students who had severe behavioral problems, and followed a curriculum that did not seem to allow him to reach his full potential. However, during his time at Chamberlain, he did learn to do his own laundry and make his bed, important life skills that would not have been learned at this point, otherwise. But, due to his lack of stimulation and academic growth, his parents felt it was not the right place for him. They wanted Street to be around “typical” students where he could play sports, be involved in extracurricular activities, go to homecoming, and prepare to possibly attend college one day. They wanted him to be in an inclusive environment, so he could learn from his peers.
That following school year, Street moved in with my husband Tom and I, and started his freshman year at Manheim Township High School. In my next blog post I will discuss why this was the right decision for Street, and how he has been thriving ever since.
Julie Cornack, M.A., CCC/SLP
Speech Language Pathologist