5 months after Bird got the diagnosis of autism we were finally accepting into Fairfax County Pubic Schools (FCPS). They showed us several classrooms from Non-Cat (not good for MOST kids with autism) to PAC. My husband toured school after school telling them no! I understand now that is not something most people get to do but he is 6’8″ good looking and again a little Aspie so no means NO. By the 4th school all the way in Springfield 15 miles away he came across a very aggressive young woman named Mere. She told my husband Kam that our son would be great in her class and that she could create amazing change for him. She talked a lot about ABA and that is what he wanted to hear.
Kam finally signed the IEP. He told me most of the kids in the class were higher than Bird and that it would be good for him to have models. He told me that Bird could start right away and that Mere was ready.
I was not ready. Bird was 3 years old and a baby. How was I going to put him on the bus at 7:10am and get him back at 4pm?
Really you need him to be there ALL DAY. Really he can’t just go a few hours like his big brother does for pre-school?
I told them NO to bus services because we had the luxury of not having me go back to work (it has costs us a lot in things many people believe to be important like a bigger house…but for our family it was the right thing to do).
Days passed and Mere waited for Bird but he did not come. I think 6 days of class were missed when I got a call from Mere asking if I could bring Bird in today? I said,”No, his brother and sister has a little cold and I don’t want him to infect anyone if she is getting it as well.” She said it was okay just bring him in. I said,”No, I really don’t want to send him without seeing the room and the other kids and what goes on.” She said that is fine to come ahead. I told her I did not have a sitter and she said than bring them all.
The point being she was relentless and not going to give up on seeing him that day.
Begrudgingly I took him to N. Springfield. It would be his first partial day of school and I did bring my other kids.
The classroom was nicely laid out and children were broken into groups and all working happily. They had 2-3 aides 4 or 5 kids and Mere.
She immediately pulled out toys for all 3 kids and chatted me up asking questions about his likes and dislikes and sharing a little about the way the room ran in centers, circle time, snack and how ABA was used in all of these settings.
It was hard to admit it but she did have great instructional control (I had no idea what that was then) and the kids looked happy.
The next day I drove him school (and everyday afterward for the first year). It was really painful to know he needed something I could not give him. It was painful to know somebody would have a big part of his life that I did not know and that he would be learning songs I did not teach him. Letting him go was the hardest thing I had to do in my life.
Bird made progress. He learned and developed everyday. Mere called once or twice a week to gleefully tell me what was happening in the classroom and how he was progressing. She also sent home a daily notebook for me to read and also fill out to talk about what we did and how he was feeling.
She would also tell me about eating Bird’s snack in front of him when he would not comply! This turned out to be a great strategy! She was tough on him and really had every expectation he would show daily progress. She never fell back on the “he has autism” as a reason that he should not try and succeed at everything. For those who are not aware if you pair yourself heavily and constantly with a child you should be able to place heavy demands. It should be HARD and a struggle.
If your child is always happy it is because you are finding ways to avoid making them attend, work and succeed. Smiling on the treadmill means you are not really up to speed!
Mere is one of many blessing we have had in Bird’s life. While I know of 2 parents who actually think she sucks as a teacher (they actually suck as parents) I think most people who have had children in her class see the passion and the change and will be forever grateful as we are.
Flash forward 4 years when Dill escorts Mere down the isle at her wedding. I can see them in the distance but not hear what they are saying. I asked Mere later what the conversation was they were having while she was walking down the isle.
Bird,”Peep is the flower girl?” Mere,”Yes, she is.” Bird,”Herd is a groomsmen?” Mere,”Yes, yes he is?” Bird, “I am the groom!” Mere,”No, no Patrick is the groom.” Bird,” No, I am the groom.” Mere, “I am the one getting married I think I know who I am marrying!”
We love them and see them still. Two weeks ago she and Patrick came up for the weekend to watch the kids play at a soccer match (Peep took 9 shots on goal, Herd actually ran, and Bird was Bird…he ran down every kids stealing the ball and defending the goal). They also stated to see a friends of mine speak at a POAC-NoVA meeting David Hamrick and Lindsey Nebeker who are adults with autism that are really really successful and lovely.