Soon after our meeting with the psychologist and receiving the “Official/Unofficial” diagnosis for Taylor, (I refuse to call this an official diagnosis and you can read about that horrible experience here) we continued to seek out people that could possibly understand what we were dealing with and help us determine what steps we should take next.
There weren’t many people to talk to and for the most part, we still felt like we were on our own but we were determined. It also helps that I am a pretty stubborn woman. This was my child and I was ready to kick autism on its butt, whatever that may mean.
Taylor was already receiving speech therapy so we were ahead of the game on that but we understood that this may be something we would be dealing with for a lifetime. Mike and I continued to pray that this was just a developmental delay, not autism, and that Taylor would grow out of it like my friend’s son did. I think every parent who has a child with autism prays this prayer but we knew that we still had to be proactive. We wanted Taylor to have as much help as we could get for him. We didn’t know much about autism but we knew we weren’t going to just sit around and just give up without trying everything in our power.
A good friend of mine told us about a program at an elementary school in the town next to us that sounded perfect for Taylor. It was called the Eclipse Program. The class took children, ages 3 years – 5 years, and was an even mix of Special Needs children combined with Typical children. The one good thing about that doctor’s diagnosis was that it got Taylor in this class in the middle of that school year without have to go on a waiting list.
A diagnosis is so important to help you get the help you need!
When we began to accept that Taylor had some form of autism, my first thought was “I should have kept him home. I shouldn’t have put him in daycare.” I have said it before, but as a parent I will always wonder what I could have done differently. This was one of those things. Daycare, as it turned out, was something that Taylor benefited greatly from. Although staying home with Taylor was not financially possible for us at the time, looking back on it I realize that daycare was the absolute BEST place for Taylor to be when he was a toddler.
Well, where else was he going to learn how to be around his peers and learn to communicate with them? Where else would Taylor learn how to engage with other children and play with them without judgement? Toddlers don’t care if you can’t talk, they just accept you for who you are. Daycare proved to work as a social therapy process for Taylor. He wasn’t good at those social skills but he was much better than he would have been if I had hired a nanny and kept him at home.
I realize that this is not the case for all children with autism but for Taylor, daycare was very helpful. The Eclipse Program was even better! As soon as the Eclipse Program accepted Taylor, we pulled him out of daycare and he started going to school at Creek View Elementary. Taylor went to this school 5 days a week, 8:00-2:00. They let the Eclipse class out before the “big kids” got out of school to help keep the stimulus and chaos for these kids to a minimum. You don’t want a 3 year-old being run down by 3rd graders regardless if they are special needs or not.
This Eclipse Class was such a Godsend and I believe this program should be in every single school! The class had one teacher (Mrs. Ashley is AMAZING!) and two teacher’s aides. This broke down to a student-teacher ratio of 4 to 1. Taylor received constant therapy through the class time work and games they played. He was also pulled out of class several times a week for speech therapy and occupational therapy. The typical kids worked as role models for the special needs children. Taylor was still learning how to act socially and if he had been in an environment with only children on the spectrum, that’s the only behavior he would have learned. For the typical children in the class, they learned acceptance and patience and how to help their friends.
Taylor also learned how to charm the teachers, the aides, the office staff and even the principal! By the time he graduated from the Eclipse Class when he was five, I think he had every teacher in that elementary school wrapped around his finger. He was adorable and it was ridiculously funny! It was also amazing! The progress we saw with Taylor during this time was phenomenal and the love the teachers had for him was unmistakable. It was for these reasons that we sold our house and moved so that we could live in this school district. The last thing we wanted to do was remove Taylor from an environment where he was accepted and loved and where his teachers expected the best from him. They saw his potential and they worked hard every day to help Taylor improve.
I know we are very blessed to have had this experience with the school system. I have heard some very sad stories and I wish every child had the kind of support system Taylor had (and still has). THIS is the way it should be! What makes me sad is that the school system ended the Eclipse Program a few years ago. Even though Taylor was already in middle school when this happened, the sadness I feel for the children that have been denied such an amazing service is impossible to express.
Another amazing thing about the Eclipse Class was that it was free for children with special needs. This was SO IMPORTANT for us. We were young and financially strapped, still on that Ramen Noodle budget it seemed, borrowing from one credit card to pay on another. There was no way we could afford to pay even $40 a session with a speech therapist three times a week. Education is free for typical children, shouldn’t it be free for our children with special needs? Luckily, we lived in the right place at the right time, but even so, we wouldn’t have known about the Eclipse Program if not for my friend who knew about the program because she was a teacher.
One of my goals through writing this blog and my book is to bring a greater awareness to how important programs like this are to our children, the “special needs” as well as the ‘”typical” children. One of the reasons Taylor has done so well in school is because the “typical” kids in he school accept him. He’s just Taylor to them. He has had friends through the years that have stood up for him, taken care of him and just been his buddy. Acceptance goes so much farther than you would think. The kids that surround and love him own my heart!
When I was a kid, the Special Education class was separated from all of us “regular kids”. We never crossed paths and if we did see them, we had no idea how to interact with them. I remember as 6th grader actually being scared of them because I just didn’t understand. I remember one time in particular. I was checked out of school early and there was a girl with down syndrome sitting on the front steps of the school waiting to be picked up because they got out earlier than we did. When I walked by her, she reached out to grab me and said something I didn’t understand. I was terrified and ran down the steps to my mom’s car.
I remember this so well and when I look back on this it makes me incredibly sad. She just wanted to say “hey”. She may have just wanted a hug or maybe she wanted someone to sit down with her while she waited for her mom. It is because of this girl in 6th grade that I had made the decision when I was pregnant that my child would be in an inclusion class. I never wanted my child to be afraid of someone with special needs. I wanted them to be the friend they needed. Little did I know that my child would be the one who needed acceptance.
I am also forever grateful for the teachers and care givers he had in his life through this Eclipse Class. I truly believe that Taylor would not be where he is today if it had not been for the Eclipse Program and his teacher Mrs. Ashley, his aides, Mrs. Joyce, Mrs. Tracy and Mrs. Dee, and his speech therapist, Mrs. Liddell. I hope they know how much they mean to me and I pray that other parents will have someone like these ladies in the lives of their children.
Our children deserve that.
From the bottom of my heart,