Everyone has a different experience with what type of school works for your extra-needs child, all depending on the area you live in and what types of services are available.  I know of several families that have moved out of Utah to be eligible for better school services.  (Considering UT ranks the absolute LOWEST for amount of money spent per pupil as of July 2009, that obviously is a smart move for any family – yikes).

We lived in the Salt Lake City School District when Hamhock was diagnosed at age 2 1/2.  He had already been receiving minimal services with the state’s Early Intervention program, administered by DDI Vantage.  At age 3, the SLC school district offered a special-needs preschool 2 mornings a week.  It was my nagging suspicion that for a child with autism, THAT SIMPLY ISN’T ENOUGH.  That was our biggest reason for running our own private ABA therapy in our home, and avoiding the endless fighting that would have been required to fight for more services from the school district with their minimal budget (please legislators, we need to start putting much much more money into our schools!).

We did not have any money to run our own ABA program.  None.  But I just felt driven that someway, somehow, I had to make this possible.  I just had to.  No matter the personal sacrifice involved.

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I have to state up front here, and before I go on, I hope that my blog doesn’t give people the errant idea that my husband and I were rolling in the lap of luxury, and that is why we were “able” to pursue ABA therapy, instead of accepting the public school system therapy.

We had no money.  We were renting an old, stinky 1950’s house for $800 a month.  We had a crappy car that kept breaking down, for which we were paying $160 a month.  (Thankfully, our 8 year old Jeep was paid for).  My husband worked from 9-5, and I would leave the house at 5:30 to go to work from 6 pm – midnight.  We literally lived hand-to-mouth/paycheck-to-paycheck for two years to provide our son ABA therapy.  We had no savings.  We were not contributing to a 401K.    We took no vacations.  We were struggling to pay off our $7K hospital/doctor bill from Superboy’s c-section (because of crappy health insurance).

So, after I would manage my son’s therapy alone all day (hiring tutors, keeping them trained with bi-weekly meetings, monitoring their progress, etc), while also breastfeeding and taking care of my one-year old (proud to say I breastfed him until he was two – yay for breastfeeding moms!), doing all the typical “housewifey” things – laundry, cleaning, grocery shopping, cooking, ironing, paying bills, etc, then I got the *lovely* pleasure to work at a crappy call center job until midnight, 5 nights a week.

I developed insomnia.  I lost my sex drive.  We didn’t go on any vacations.  I felt like an 80 year old woman with no energy (I was 36-38 in 2006-2008).  It is four years later, and I am still recovering from each of those things, as well as obviously financially trying to catch up.

It sucked.

That said, the progress I saw in our son was invaluable.  I would not trade those two crappy years for anything, because I truly feel it gave him what he needed.

Because of my experience, I don’t think that ABA therapy is just for financially solvent people.  If there is a will, there is a way.  Someway, somehow, you can figure things out.  But if not. . .well, then. . .ABA probably isn’t the right path for you – for reasons totally unique and individual to your particular situation.

I sincerely pray that health insurance in all 50 states will cover ABA therapy (if that is the path that the parents choose), so that they also don’t have to go through two years of hell like we did, just to give their child a fighting chance.

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As part of the ABA program, I enrolled Hamhock in preschool at age 4 to start working on social skills, school setting, following rules, etc.  The preschool program I chose was run by the Granite School District, which only cost $110/month for 4 days/week, 3 hours/day.  The preschools take place at the elementary schools, so its a great program to get your child ready for Kindergarten and doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, like most private preschools do.

During that year of preschool, we moved into the Jordan School District (now Canyons School District).  I had Hamhock tested with the JSD special needs program to determine which services he would qualify for in this new school district.  In both behavioral and speech testing, he qualified too advanced for their current preschool program.  Their recommendation was to have him enter Kindergarten and ‘see’ how he does, at which point we can discuss IEP needs.

I wasn’t interested in fighting to have him in a preschool where the children were far less functioning than he is, and since he did so well in his preschool in Granite District, we kept him there.  He made several friends and overall had a fabulous learning experience.

As I was researching Kindergartens (charter, CSD public or GSD public), it became apparent that keeping Hamhock at the same elementary school for Kindergarten in the Granite School District would be the best choice to start.  Our CSD neighborhood school runs Kindergarten from 8:20 – 10:55 (ugh).  Whereas, GSD Kindy is from 9:05 – 12:05.  Since Superboy’s preschool is from 8:45 – 11:45, I need something around the same times.  I like the school set-up, too:  a private playground just for Kindergartners, and a private entrance directly into their classes, so they don’t have to interact quite yet with the big kids.  The rooms are big, airy and have windows.  Hamhock has several friends already, and I’m glad that he can look forward to his buddies on the way to school.

Hamhock attended a regular public school Kindergarten (Granite School District, Upland Terrace Elementary) without an official IEP.   He had speech therapy and support from the school psychologist and behavior specialist.

He attended first grade at a regular public school (Canyons School District, East Sandy Elementary).  He is completely mainstreamed, with a very understanding and approachable teacher, and I have been able to work with her to accommodate anything he’s needed, so we haven’t done an official IEP yet.  He didn’t get speech therapy.  He did get support from the school psychologist once a week.  He met with a small group of other boys on the spectrum and they did games and activities to support social skills.

In August 2011, he is enrolled in a regular, public charter school (Alianza Academy) for second grade.  He has an IEP for speech therapy and OT.  The Alianza model is perfectly suited for kids with learning challenges.

He is still attending Alianza Academy in 3rd grade for school year 2012-2013.  He is doing well academically and socially.  He receives speech and occupational therapy every week.

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4 Responses to “School”

  1. Jane Buirgy said

    Our family is having an entirely different experience, in Salt Lake District’s preschool, than the one described above. I must say that my granddaughter is not autistic but was delayed in speech, fine motor development and delayed learning skills. She too started in the developmental preschool at age 3 for two days a week. This year she attends the regular preschool 4 days a week for 3 hours a day. She receives speech, resource help and occupational, therapy to help develop her fine motor skills. She has made great strides in speech and other areas. She still lags behind and we are not sure her placement for next year in kindergarten, but are convinced that she will be placed in the most appropriate setting for her. Everyone has been very supportive. Salt Lake District also integrates the arts far more than other districts in the Salt Lake Valley, which is very important to us. Hopefully those searching for an educational program for their child with special need will be able to find the program that meets their child’s needs the best.

  2. gooagoo said

    Hi Jane! I am so glad to hear that your granddaughter is doing well and learning in the Salt Lake District! I am thrilled that she is having a great learning experience in the most appropriate setting for her. I had researched all my options quite a while ago (7 years ago) in 2006, so there could be many new programs now that I’m not aware of. That’s wonderful that the art program in SLD is far superior to other districts. I come from a family of educators (father was a professor, mother is a 7th grade English teacher, sister1 is a History teacher, sister2 is a viola teacher, sister3 is an Italian teacher, and I will probably get a Masters in Education in the next decade), and I appreciate all public school educators, and all that public school does for our society.

    I actually have no doubt that my son would have made great progress and learned much in an appropriate public school setting. I am sure that the SLD would have given us at least 12 hours of preschool and at least 2 hours of speech and occupational therapy a week.

    I, however, just wanted him to have more. So that was a driving factor in pursuing the ABA therapy at 30-35 hours per week. Some kids with developmental and speech delays do not respond to ABA, so I am totally aware that our experience was not typical, or even common. Running the private ABA came at a great sacrifice to our family, some consequences of which we are still even now recovering from.

    I am sure your granddaughter will continue to do well, and I’m glad that it sounds like she has a great team of support available to her. Thanks for commenting.

  3. Jane Buirgy said

    As an educator myself and having taught students with a variety of problems in a regular classroom, I recognize the need for a variety of educational settings that can hopefully meet every child’s needs. I fully support the need for children with autism to receive support from insurance to provide for the high costs that come with providing children with the therapy that they need to help them function at the highest level that they are capable of. Too often we write children off because we don’t want to budget for the costs of helping, even though in the long run we are going to pay for it if a child becomes dependent on society to support him/her as an adult.. I am convinced that in many cases this could be avoided if adequate support were available.

    Most families cannot financially provide the support that children with severe emotional, medical or developmental problems need, and we should not expect them too. If we are fortunate enough to have healthy children that need no special help, we should be willing to support legislation that allows every family to have access to the many health and educational programs available in our country. This care should not be available only to those that can afford it.

    Now that you have listened to my ranting on, I wish your family the best and hope that you continue to have access to programs which best can help your son.

  4. gooagoo said

    I agree with you 100%! As a Democrat, I am in full support of comprehensive health insurance that will cover pre-existing conditions and therapy for a variety of ailments that affect the human family. We as a society need to be responsible for, and take care of, the ‘least of these’ among us.

    We need every child with developmental delays to have the options available for them.

    I hope my blog here doesn’t give people the errant idea that my husband and I were rolling in the lap of luxury, and that is why we were “able” to pursue ABA therapy, or ABA Therapy was available to use because we could afford it.

    We had no money. We were renting an old, stinky 1950’s house for $800 a month. We had a crappy car that kept breaking down, for which we were paying $160 a month. My husband worked from 9-5, and I would leave the house at 5:30 to go to work from 6 pm – midnight. We literally lived hand-to-mouth for 2 years to provide my son ABA therapy. We had no savings. We were not contributing to a 401K. We took no vacations.

    So, after I would manage my son’s therapy alone all day, while also nursing and taking care of my one-year old (proud to say I nursed him until he was 2 – yay!), I got the lovely pleasure to work at a crappy call center job until midnight, 5 nights a week.

    I developed insomnia. I lost my sex drive. We didn’t go on any vacations. I felt like an 80 year old woman (I was 37) with no energy. It is four years later, and we are still recovering from each of those things, as well as obviously financially trying to catch up.

    It sucked.

    That said, the progress I saw in my son was invaluable. I would not trade those 2 crappy years for anything, because I truly feel it gave him what he needed.

    Anyway . . . I might need to clarify on my ABA post that we are not rich, and therefore I don’t think that ABA therapy is just for financially solvent people. If there is a will, there is a way. I was simply driven to make it work.

    I do sincerely hope that health insurance in all 50 states will cover ABA therapy (if that is the path that the parents choose), so that they also don’t have to go through 2 years of hell to give their child a chance.

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