The other day a miraculous thing came in the mail: a letter addressed to my son Jacob, the one on the Autism Spectrum who has no real friends of his own yet, and never gets mail. The letter came from the Admissions Director of the new school Jake will be attending in the fall.
Those who have been aware of my struggles to find a school for my son for next year will read these words and know the tonnage of the weight that has now been lifted from my heart.
Jacob has not been an easy child to find a school for. Too related for the Autism schools and too Autistic for the LD (Learning Disabled) schools - and also with too large a language disorder for the wonderful Aspergers program that shockingly does exist in our NYC public schools (the ASD Nest program) - he is a classic “falls though the cracks” kind of kid. Not that we would let that happen to him, but still, this has not been a fun year.
Let me say that again, because I like the saying of it: my son Jacob now has a school to attend next fall. And not just any school, a wonderful one that felt so right from the moment I walked in the door, and stayed that way through every interaction I have had with every staff member of the school.
I have felt there to be an overriding (and sadly rare) combination of warmth, caring, intelligence and respect that I did not know was exactly what I was looking for until I encountered it, and then it left nearly every other school sadly wanting. This school, though private, is neither fancy or shmantzy, but it is perfect for Jake right now, and so I sigh the deepest sigh of relief a parent has ever exhaled.
But I am digressing again (I do that, I have ADD, remember?) and I want to come back to this letter. A few simple paragraphs. Nothing fancy, or shmantzy, but it made me cry. Read it here (with a few specifying details fudged) and you will know why:
Dear Mr. Jacob F.
Congratulations! We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted to the Level II class at the XYZ School at (address) for the 2010-2011 school year.
Within the next week, your family should expect to receive an envelope with enrollment materials. They will also receive a phone call from our main office, asking to set up an appointment for an enrollment meeting.
I am delighted to welcome you and your family to the XYZ School. We look forward to a successful year and a long partnership.
Director of Admissions
If you haven’t figured out why this made me cry, here it is: the Director of Admissions sent this letter directly to my Autistic almost 8 year old son. To HIM, not to me. What that simple act communicates is a world of import, summed up in a simple/not simple word: RESPECT.
Jacob is being treated like a person, a person to be talked to, not just talked about. He is not “being placed”, he is being welcomed into a community. And this makes all the difference in the universe.
I sent an email to the Admissions Director, telling him his letter had made me cry, and also telling him:
“I want you to know that your short, simple, warm letter so elegantly communicated a level of respect for your students as people and members of a community. I have not experienced this anywhere else in his education to date, and now that I know it is possible, from this point on I will expect no less for him, ever. Thank you.”
And this is what I want to pass on, to say to all of us, parents of children with special and with ordinary needs (no, calm down, I’m not calling your kids ordinary, yes, they are all special) of children with and without IEPs (although to quote a friend “isn’t every child an individual, and shouldn’t all Individuals have their own Education Plan?”)….
I say this: R-E-S-P-E-C-T (nods to Aretha) Expect and demand no less for our children, ever!