The dreaded ARD that never was

Last month I was scheduled to attend an ARD meeting for my autistic son. If you are unfamiliar with the term, it stands for Admission, Review, and Dismissal for special education students. It’s where we, as team of the teachers, principal, therapists, and parents, plan out what the student’s goals are and how we plan to help him meet those goals. We just moved to a new school district over the summer and I knew coming into this district that it might be harder than our old district was. And I’m a chicken when it comes to a fight. I am such a peace keeper that I will avoid a conflict like the plague. This is not a good quality when you have a special needs child! There are some fights that have to be fought. He’s been in the school system since he was newly 3 years old. We had ECI (Early Childhood Intervention) involved from age 18 months to age 3, then they had the case over to the school district. That’s when we got the formal evaluation of autism. He attended 3 years of PPCD (preschool program for children with disabilities) when he should have just done 2….I was too scared for him to move up to kindergarten when he turned 5, so I did ask for another year. They agreed to it since he had just turned 5. But he didn’t do well that year…he was bored. He had mastered the folder games, the lacing and beading activities, and there were about a million kids in that class. That’s what scared me about Kindergarten. I thought there would be a huge class and he would get lost with a new teacher. He finally could not do PPCD any longer, so we evaluated what we would do. We had heard of a program called Son Light that used volunteers to spend time with the child with autism in a playroom. To just be with them. It sounded intriguing, so we asked our church family and there were so many dear friends who helped us be just being with Seth and loving on him. So we did that his kindergarten year until several volunteers had to stop, so we really weren’t filling up his day. So I held my breath and enrolled him in kindergarten for the spring semester….and it was wonderful. We loved his teacher and the class was only 6 kids, a teacher and two aides! I was thrilled. He was able to continue his 6 hours a week of speech/physical therapy/occupational therapy with not one word said about how much school he was missing. Then the next year we decided we were going to be moving. I didn’t enroll him for his first grade year so he would not have to have a lot of transition when we moved. We were blessed to be on a medicaid waiver program that allowed our son to have up to 40 hours a week of attendant care. We have a dear friend who had just quit teaching and was looking for a part time job. She had been one of his volunteers with his SonLight program, so it was a perfect fit! She came and helped him during the day about 20 hours/week which was a huge blessing to me. I think it was during this year that I started yearning for our son to be able to attend ABA therapy. I prayed and cried for us to be given that opportunity. It’s very expensive and insurance would not cover it. So I felt God’s peace that I didn’t need to worry about it. I put it on the back burner of my mind. What we thought would be a quick move turned out to take the whole school year. We didn’t move until May! So we moved and he got enrolled in 1st grade for 3 weeks. But that was good too. He got to meet the teacher he would have the next year and so he was ready for 2nd grade when it came around. He was going all day to school and it was good. But then I got a coupon for a free meeting with an ABA therapy center that was 25 minutes away from us. Close enough to make it doable. So I went and checked it out and it sounded like it would really benefit our son. I then checked with insurance to see what they would cover, and that ABA center was not on their list, but others were and our coverage was amazing! We got on a waiting list, and a spot opened up within weeks. How could I pass up what so clearly was a huge opportunity from God? So I readied myself for a fight as I asked the school to allow him to miss all morning so he could attend ABA therapy. Not one word of resistance from the school. They agreed immediately, and we got him started. It was crazy driving back and forth and finding things to do with our 3 year old for 3 hours while we waited for him, but it was worth it. He finally started making progress with his speech! He did half a day of ABA and half a day of school for the whole spring semester. It was great. Then we moved to our current house which is much closer to his therapy center. He continued his therapy over the summer and as the school year approached we had to decide what to do for school. We planned the ARD but I let them know he was going to continue his outside therapy. That’s when it fell apart. The school district had to ask their attorney if that would be possible. The day before the planned ARD I got a call that, as much as they would love to have our son in their school, he would not be allowed to leave for outside therapy everyday. If I did enroll him and then take him out of school for therapy, they would press truancy charges. My response? No thank you! We chose not to enroll him in a program we knew nothing about when he was making such great progress in his current therapy. I think I could have legally fought it and won, but honestly I don’t have the mental strength to go through that (or the money!) so we asked our insurance company for more hours. Amazingly they did! And I didn’t have to fight for it! He’s only approved for 30 hours/week until January, but they did approve it and so he started this week with his new schedule….I can’t help but remember the day 3 years ago that I was crying and asking God to please provide the therapy that Seth needs. It may have taken some time, and it may not last long with the way insurance is being overhauled, but it is a blessing! We take it gratefully and want to make the most of it. We’ll be addressing his diet next and that, my friends is my next blog post! Thanks for walking down memory lane with me. If you know any family affected by autism, give them a hug! It’s a long road with many decisions to be made. They need all the love and support you can give them.

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