Enroll Softly and Carry a Big Stick

Photo by Amy Storch
Conclusion to last week's column of temporary second-guessing and over-complicating things: We decided to stick with the special-needs camp. I looked into a couple nearby "typical" programs and wasn't satisfied with their claims of experience with kids like Noah -- one camp claimed over the phone that they enrolled special needs children "all the time," but when I went to visit the director had never heard of PEP (our district's Preschool Education Program) or dyspraxia. Or Sensory Processing Disorder. Or visual schedules. Or ... okay, I think I'm just gonna ... go now. Thanks for your time! And for thoroughly wasting mine.


So we're forking over a small and possibly unnecessary fortune this summer, but in the end, it was the easiest decision. No worries about Noah's anxiety over new places and people and transitions, or how he'll be viewed by the teachers and other kids. He'll be in a place he's already comfortable with, with people who know the ins and outs of every quirk.

Plus, every Friday is water day! He gets to go swimming and I don't have to put on a bathing suit. WIN.

But the encounter with the other camp director is still kind of bugging me, especially since this was simply the latest in a long line of preschool programs to grossly inflate their experience with special-needs kids. I mean, seriously, why lie about something like that? Who does that help, exactly? You fill a space and collect a deposit, sure, but then what? You hope maybe I'm exaggerating? Because I'm not. You hope maybe your program is just so awesome my kid will magically fit in without any accommodations? Because that's not likely.

Noah's first preschool experience was with a school like this -- on paper and in person, they sounded perfect. They knew about Early Intervention and had "many" students who attended PEP or received speech or occupational therapy, and the director didn't bat an eye when I mentioned SPD. (Turns out she didn't know what it was either, but just had a good poker face, I guess.) Noah was given a teacher with Spectrum kids of her own.

Four months later, that teacher was threatening to expel him because of the exact behaviors I'd been completely upfront with her about and been assured she was familiar with. The director rebuked her and reassured me that they could make Noah's school year easier, if I could just give them some coping strategies. Once again, the director nodded seriously and carefully wrote down my suggestions of a visual schedule and social stories and a photo book to help Noah through transitions. And then none of these things were actually implemented in the classroom.

Finally, the teacher let me know what she really thought: Noah was autistic, and had no business being in her classroom to begin with, and my "mislabeling" him as SPD was upsetting her and not doing him any favors.

(Noah's pediatrician, after being told of this uber-professional and scientific assessment: Um. Wait. What? Because no, he's actually not.)

I don't know what my point is this week, and why I felt like rehashing that horrible experience. I don't know if telling that story helps anyone, because ... well, when a school or camp tells you they can handle your child's needs, you generally should be able to believe them. Unfortunately, I guess you can't. Parent beware. Enroll softly, and carry a big stick.


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