When we parents of children with disabilities meet in doctor’s offices, conferences, workshops, therapy sessions, we frequently share our experiences. The tales of joy and woe come pouring out. We open up about the progress our children have made, the uneasy concerns, set-backs, and our frustrations. We comfort each other. We learn that we are not alone. Our eyes are opened to battles that lie ahead.
During the times that I was fighting my most exasperating battles, I was sure that I would never forget.
However, this morning as I was talking to my youngest daughter, Patty, on the way to college (a daily drive of about 45 minutes five days a week), I realized that I had indeed forgotten one of my war stories.
Eight years ago Mary attended the regional autism program in our county from the fifth grade through high school graduation. She was bused five days a week to the second largest school district in our county. In high school, she was mainstreamed in most of her classes with regular education students, with a one hour class each day for social skills training, occupational therapy, and speech therapy.
In the middle of her junior year in high school, Mary’s guidance counselor told me that Mary would not be able to graduate in with the class of 2005 if she did not take a summer class or a class at the community college. I told her that I was confused. Mary had gone to school 6 hours a day, five days a week since the beginning of high school. She had taken 6 classes every semester.
I talked to our teacher consultant in our home district and she agreed that Mary was not being given credit for all of her classes and she intervened to no avail. The guidance counselor stood her ground and would not budge. She insisted that Mary needed to take an extra class. I went to the school principle to complain about this after getting nowhere with the counselor. My daughter’s autism teacher told me that he was embarrassed that I had gone over the counselor’s head. He was no help at all.
The guidance counselor told us that we had to have Mary take a summer course with them, which would cost over $300. Or Mary could take a college course, which they would pay for if it was a course that they didn’t teach at the high school. I said that they should pay for it regardless because they had messed up her credits.
The summer class was not possible due to Ralph’s work schedule and my work schedule. We tried to find a class at the local community college that was not taught at the high school. However, the high school had 2000 students, and taught a large variety of courses, so that was impossible. We decided along with Mary that it would be a good idea for her to take a night class in Business English, because those credits would also count toward her college degree.
One night a week for 15 weeks, we took Mary to the community college, and waited in the parking lot while she was in class. She passed the class with a B, which was excellent for someone with autism and learning disabilities. At the time, her English teacher in the high school told us that it would be a waste of money for Mary to go to college.
It’s a amazing thing how things look from hindsight. We did not prevail in this long drawn out battle. I was so frustrated. However, it turned out that the counselor was wrong. Mary did not need those extra credits. She had completed two years of a computer accounting class at the county vocational school in one year with A’s and A minuses. She excelled in accounting – it was all numbers. One of the features of autism can be intense focus. While others were socializing, she was working. She received two years worth of credits in that year. In addition, she had the three credit college course that was added to her high school credits because the counselor insisted that Mary required an extra class.
When Mary started her classes at the community college after high school graduation, she was already familiar with the campus and with the pattern of a college class. Even though it seemed unfair and was very inconvenient at the time, it turned out to be a blessing.