Mom 's Corner: What a year has done…
I know it's been a long time since my last post. As you know life waits for no one to catch their breath, take a break or enjoy the moment without a conscience efforts. I found some time this morning to stop and reflect on our year. We have had our ups and downs but through it all we have prevailed, progressed, suffered some setbacks but through it all we have learned some life long lessons. So this post is going to be a long one!
My son started the year at a new school located in Annandale, Virginia called the Phillips School. The school specializes in kids with autism and emotional and behavioral problems. It is located roughly about 35 to 40 minutes away from our home. Phillips School is a private, nonprofit organization serving over 500 children and their families in the Washington metropolitan area. This year the school is celebrating their 50th year anniversary, and let me tell you this school is awesome!
The mission of the school state that, “ Phillips serves the needs of individuals with emotional and behavioral problems and their families through education, family support services, community education and advocacy.” “...And to help children where others could not — to prepare to become independent, productive young adults.”
When we had our initial tour of the school, I felt like this where Ralph needed to be in order to get the best out of him. During our interview, the Program Director, Mrs. Trudy Bell told us, “We design a program to fit a child, not make a child fit into a program.” Those words echoed in my mind. To confirm we were making the right decision, Ralph told us “goodbye” when the tour was over, because he didn’t want to leave. Any one who know my son or a child on the spectrum, he had to feel comfortable in their space to say that to us. We walked out that day feeling we were about to change Ralph’s life. Don’t get me wrong, we knew the school would not cure his autism or they were not going to be challenges, we walked away feeling hopeful. Having hope is half the battle, once you lose it's hard to get it back.
One of the biggest adjustments for me as a mom, was Ralph riding the bus. You see I have always taken him to school and picked him up. It’s our time before he starts his day and at the end of the day where we get that one on one time where I can love on him just a little longer before he is off to school. When I put him on the bus the first day I was a wreck, I cried the entire long walk down our long driveway. I even drove to the school to meet his teacher on the first day. I beat the bus and got there in record time of 23 minutes to be exact. With all tears and fears Ralph loved riding the bus, loved the aids and absolutely loved school.
Phillips School has made such a difference in Ralph and in us as parents. Before I would have such anxiety about back to school nights, IEP meetings, teacher conferences, etc., until this year. Normally what happens is we spend most of the evening hearing from teachers all the things Ralph isn’t doing like the other kids or Ralph’s bad behavior and outbursts. This year was different, when we arrived a lot of the staff knew us already even though we had not met them; which I thought was a bad thing at first. Each person we spoke with knew our son, said positive things about him and what they wanted to work with him on. It was such a positive experience I was moved to tears on the ride home. I felt so relieved we were at a school that saw past the behavior and seen the potential. When I got home and put everyone to bed. I sat downstairs at the kitchen table and wrote Ralph’s team this email.
“Good evening Ms. Torres,
I wanted to send you and your team a special note today just to let you all know how much we appreciate your dedication to teaching our son. For a few weeks I have had a lot of anxiety about the upcoming "Back to School" night. As a mom you always want your children to do well in school, to listen to the teachers, follow directions and most of all behave. But a mother to a child on the autism spectrum I know every day will not be a great day, there will be ups and downs and most of all any spontaneous thing could happen. In my past experiences "Back to School" night was always, "Ralph does this and he's not doing this..." basically a negative experience without providing resolutions to the problem.
Last night I breathed a sigh of absolute relief. Each member of the team gave me hope that Ralph will progress and eventually make the strides we so hope for and by no means would it be easy or overnight but with hard work. The team gave me reassurance of their commitment to him and providing the support he needs and not giving up on him.
When we met with Ms. Bell before ESY, she told us "At Phillips we develop a program to fit the child not make the child fit into the program". It was evident last night this wasn't just a catchy motto but a true practice. We know we made the right choice for Ralph to be at Phillips and we thank you for all your hard work, persistence and dedication to your job and the children you teach. I left last night with a full heart and a peace of mind. We know the road ahead will be a long one and it will take hard work and support at school and home, just know we are committed to supporting you all in any way possible. It truly takes a village to raise a child and we so thankful you all are a part of our village.”
Ralph started the Phillips School program in the summer to help with his transition into the regular school year and to date I have had five IEPs to date. Each IEP was initiated by the school identifying services to help my son. I cannot tell you enough how much I really like his school, the staff, and the person my son is becoming. It's true the right environment can bring out the best in people. The school has started to unlock Pandora’s box in my son. I am not saying he is ready to be integrated back into general education but they have helped others see what I see, he is teachable, he is smart and he can do anything. Each day Ralph let’s us know he understands, he is compassionate to others and how to love beyond typical conditions.
In the same token, it saddens me that a school like this does not exist in Prince George’s County. I know there are some but not like this, you can feel it when you walk through the door, it's a type of positive energy that calms you, gives you a sense of security that your child is in good hands and do well here. You get the sense the staff wants to see your child soar just as much as you and will do everything possible to help them get there. At times I find myself so overwhelmed with emotion talking to the staff about Ralph, not because he is not progressing but because he is, sometimes its the littlest thing that will just touch my heart in such a way it leaves me speechless. I remember the day he started calling me by name “Mom, I need help”! My stomach had butterflies and my heart skipped a beat, because you just don’t know how long I have waited to hear him say my name or tell me he loves me. Those are the moments I never will never forget, it’s not the tough days where he has aggression and tantrums, those become miniscule.
The school has taught my husband and I that it's okay we can let our guard down they are here to help and we are a team and we are in this together. Its okay to ask for help and share our concerns and there is no judgement. I cannot tell you how appreciative and blessed I am to have this opportunity. The power of prayer and worship are real. I do not know how people do not have faith in God. I can honestly say without Him I do not know where I would be. When the days are hard, I stop and just say thank you God for letting me see another day, I reflect on all that have and where I could have been if I didn’t believe that all things are possible through God. It's so humbling, it makes you stop the pity party, the worrying and push through. I know that whatever God’s plan may be, my family will be ok.
The school has inspired me to do more, not just for my son but for others as well. I have begun to talk openly about autism and what is looks like in our household to other parents, coworkers and sometimes complete strangers. I have even gone as far to have an Autism Awareness event at work and have a representative from Autism Speaks come in and talk to my colleagues at work about autism, what it is, how to interact with those on the spectrum and answer any questions.
My major project is starting the Raising Ralph Nonprofit Organization to work to provide services and funding to public school autism programs. I have a t-shirt campaign to raise money to donate 100% of the proceeds to autism programs in public schools in Prince George's County, Maryland. Click here to support. I am firm believer if you can dream you can achieve it! And faith without works is dead! Be blessed...
“My mouth will speak in praise of the LORD. Let every creature praise his holy name for ever and ever.”
“Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 1 John 4:8 ESV