Back in the fall, we decided to change Peter into a different program. There were multiple reasons for our decision. The other students in his classroom had aged out and he was the only one left. His main classroom teacher was on maternity leave until Thanksgiving. The program he was in was located in a Middle School that had very limited opportunity for any kind of inclusion beyond art and music...neither of which Peter really liked.
Jay and I toured another classroom within the collaborative Peter attends that was located in a high school two towns over. Even though the classroom was full, the teacher agreed to take Peter in for a temporary placement to see if he would be a good fit. The classroom was perfect for Peter, with 8 friends and an awesome program that had multiple nuerotypical high school students rotating in and out of the classroom multiple times a day. Peter fit right in!
Today at his IEP meeting, the psychologist was present to go over the psychological testing Peter had as part of his three year review. The psychologist had also done Peter's testing three years ago, and she was amazed at the difference she saw in him. Three years ago, she had to give Peter constant breaks and redirection to get even the minimal testing done. She had to currently address negative behaviors that came up because he was doing a non-preferred activity, which was the norm for Peter back then.
Not this year! This year, she got all of his testing done in two sessions with no breaks! He was able to complete all of it. He even scored in the average range and close to the average range in a couple of different categories. That's a huge improvement for Peter!
I can't say enough about the team that we are blessed to have for Peter: From the psychologist who celebrated the gains Peter has made and reminded us that Peter is much more than any result of a test, to our home therapist who has helped us through so many bumpy times and continues to push Peter forward to help him reach the highest levels he is able, to his classroom teacher who has had such a positive influence on Peter all year and has helped him work through his clothing quirks and helped him to really bloom into the teenager that he is, to the aides in his class that give him so much love and positive attention, to his speech therapist who totally gets the direction we hope to go in and the gains in true conversation for Peter that we are praying for, to the director of his program who is always so positive and the director of our Special Ed Department, who was brand new this year and supported us and helped to find Peter a classroom that fit him so well!
Peter is still profoundly affected by Autism. He will never be even close to functioning at the same level as his age appropriate peers. It's gotten easier to hear his teachers and therapists talk about focusing on academics that will give him life skills. Our focus on helping Peter be the very best version of Peter that he can be. To be as independent as possible in life and to have the skills to have fulfilling relationships with family and friends. Peter's life will look different from his siblings, but it can still be filled with happiness and fulfillment.
Life with Peter has definitely had its challenges. There were so many years when we could not leave him alone for 5 minutes...literally! (One time, when he was about 6, he had been in his room for less than 5 minutes without me checking on him and he had crawled out the window and it took us 10 minutes to find him. He had gone down the street three houses and was sitting on a neighbor's ride on lawn mower in his driveway.) That kind of behavior was the norm, not the exception. There were years filled with 24/7 anxiety to keep him safe. There were YEARS of dealing with his horrible sleep issues...when 3-5 nights a week he would wake up for 2-4 hours in the middle of the night and be wide awake. There were years of hearing teachers tell us, "He is very bright and has lots of good skills, but it takes so much effort to control his behaviors."
If there are any moms..or dads...of kiddos that have special needs reading this, take heart! Because somewhere along the way, something clicked. Peter finally started sleeping better. Peter finally stopped moving, climbing, and impulsively running off at every moment. I feel like we have finally started to enjoy who Peter is, rather than use all our energy to just keep him safe.
This year...Peter has finally stopped having all of the behaviors in the classroom and is opening up opportunities for himself to learn and grow friendships at school. Part of it is his ability to self regulate. Part of it is that he has matured. Part of it is the location of his program being at a high school that is very supportive of their special needs peers...especially the reverse inclusion AND the inclusion opportunities that Peter will have next year! That's something Jay and I have wanted for him since he was at the Elementary School level and I'm SO excited for Peter for next year! Last but CERTAINLY not least.....a BIG part of Peter's success this year are due to his teachers, aides, and therapists creating an environment for him to grow into the best Peter he can be!