I was three months pregnant with Alex when we decided to put him on the waiting list for an Austin preschool, and since the list was already two years long, we didnt want to take any chances of him not getting in. Our timing worked out about right and when Alex was two, a slot became available. We were thrilled. Not only was this a great opportunity for Alex, but I knew that the school was going to benefit from Alex being there as well. After all, he was so easy going and kind hearted, any teacher would have been happy to have him in their class. (Okay, Im a little biased, but its still 100% true!)
Alex quickly adapted to his new surroundings and he settled into his routine easily. However, over the course of the year, Rich and I started to notice that he wasnt talking that much. I would ask Alex a question or make a request, but his response typically didnt relate to anything in particular. Alex could memorize the parent instructions from a computer game and recite them by heart. Echolalia? Never heard of it back then. We just thought he was showing off his great memory skills and bragged to ourselves how well that would serve him when he got to college. It was so easy to deny that there was a problem, but as more time went by, Alexs language gap became more noticeable.
I decided to observe Alex at the school. After he was settled in, he thought I had left. But there I was, watching the busy activities of the morning go by, kids in groups playing, teachers moving about the classroom and yet there Alex sat quietly on the floor disengaged from everything. He looked as if he had left the room but had forgotten to take his body with him. It felt like my feet couldnt carry me fast enough to the Directors office to tell her all that I saw. The teachers were called in and I voiced my concerns. I asked them if what I saw was typical and they said it was. All of the previous reassurances that Alex was doing well gave way to what was really going on. I sat there stunned as she told me that Alex couldnt participate in most of the activities because he did not understand what was going on.
A friend, who is an occupational therapist (OT), suggested that we have Alex assessed at the public school for the Early Childhood Intervention Program. After the evaluation, we were surprised to learn that Alex was not eligible for services based on the districts eligibility criteria. It was terribly frustrating to know that Alexs needs couldnt be met at his preschool, but at the same time, they were not significant enough for him to receive services at the public school. We wondered where that left us. There had to be other kids, like Alex, who were at risk, but didnt qualify for services. We were fearful that he would slip through the cracks. We decided to get a private evaluation and over the next several months, we began seeing a round of professionals. With all the time spent on doctors appointments, evaluations, and insurance roadblocks, it was easy to avoid the painful reality that Alex may have a disability. It was as if the dreams we had for Alexs future were suddenly put on hold until we knew more specifically what we were dealing with.
When we were told about the diagnoses, I felt as if someone knocked me to the ground. I didnt know what to do next. I was a Training Manager, what did I know about language delays, auditory processing disorder or PDD? It was a complete change of focus for me as I began to collect as much information as I could about the disabilities and the services that were available to us. Thankfully, the speech pathologist we were working with told us about Capitol School.
After completing an application, Alex was invited to attend Capitol School for a two-day visit. On the following day, I was driving Alex back to his preschool when he asked me where we were going. I almost had to pull off to the side of the road when he said to me, "I dont want to go to that sad school." I realized at that moment, all of my time and energy needed to be focused on Alex, so I quit my job and he never went back to the preschool. That was the day I became an advocate for my son.
Alex began Capitol School in January 1999. His transformation has been remarkable. Our biggest concern initially was that Alex lacked the language skills to be able to make friends. He didnt know how to play with other kids and had no interest in dramatic play. We wanted him to feel that he was an important part of the class. The teachers at Capitol School were able to respond to his needs in a loving and attentive way. After the first week, I remember feeling so grateful that we had found a place for Alex that would truly meet his needs. For the first time in a long while, I felt hopeful again for Alexs future. His language skills increased dramatically over a short period of time. He began to stay on topic, use correct pronouns, and talk in a more natural, fluid style. I must say the school from which Alex came is still a fine school, but for Alex, it wasnt. Capitol School is giving him what he needs.
Alex is in his fourth year at Capitol School. He loves going to school. He has many friends and is genuinely happy. Its almost hard to remember the initial goals that were written in his ITP because he has come so far. So much so, that we decided to enroll him in a full-day summer camp for typically developing children this past summer. He loved it! We heard people talking about Alex in ways that I didnt think possible. The camp counselors were surprised to know that Alex had ANY developmental problems. He blended in with his friends, not standing out in any particular way. Yes, the counselors are not trained therapists and didnt notice the obvious issues we still are seeing, but the important thing is that Alex presented himself as a typically developing kid.
We still have some areas to work on, so this story doesnt end quite yet. Alex has made significant progress over the past few years and for that we are exceptionally (and emotionally) grateful. Capitol School has given Alex the skills and tools he needs to be successful later in life.
Ours is a feeling of gratitude that can never be fully expressed in words.