Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Right Place to Start: Fayette Progress School

Anglican Rosary (Protestant Prayer Beads)
We were blessed to be in the right place at the right time in 2001 when Gabriel was referred for Early Intervention.  We moved to Washington Court House, Ohio in the autumn of 2000.  In late December Gabe was having some "intestinal issues" so I had to find a doctor for him.  I found Dr. Greg Schaull.  During that first visit when I was only concerned about Gabe's diarrhea, Dr. Schaull zeroed in one the fact that at almost 30 months old, Gabe was still non-verbal.  He was on the phone to Sharon Gibbs and Help Me Grow before we left the office.  My head started spinning.

Sharon Gibbs helped us through the assessment and placement process. I will never forget the first home visit.  I can still remember where each of us sat even though I can't picture the furniture we were using.  The whole process seemed like a bad dream or cruel joke.  I was angry with them.  I resisted thinking of Gabe as anything other than quirky.  I mourned the lose of our innocence.

The first six months of Early Intervention were difficult...for me.  I enrolled Gabriel's older brother, Nathaniel, in the preschool portion of Fayette Progressive School as a "typical student".  Nathaniel was placed in Mrs. Liz Chaney's class.  Since Gabe would not allow me to be in his classroom (it was school after all), I spent time with Mrs. Chaney and Nate before each day started.  Much of my attitude towards Gabe's disabilities were  formed by watching her deal with her students and by seeing children with much greater problems than Gabe.

Each morning the students gathered around the table as they arrived and had milk.  I will never forget watching as some students opened their milk and straws without a problem and others struggled while the aide and teacher watched.  I soon realized that there was a purpose to this and not just to frustrate the students.  It was designed to challenge the students.  If the child could do it all, he was expected to do it.  If he could only get the straw out of the paper, he did that and attempted the next step.  After attempting it, the side stepped in and helped him finish the task.  

That was the first important lesson.  Always have the child do what he can and push him to attempt the next step.  Do not set him up for failure but also do not hold them back by doing too much for him.  Small steps can lead to independence.

The next lesson I learned as the year progressed.  Mrs. Chaney and the rest of FPS frequently took the children on field trips.  They went to Petland (which Nate was disappointed to learn was not Disneyland version featuring pets).  They went to restaurants, the airport, and ....everywhere they could.  I asked Mrs. Chaney about this once.  She said that these children need as much exposure to the outside world as they can get.  If we want them to function in society, they need to be in society.  They need to practice, practice, practice how to behave in each environment.

These two lessons have shaped how we deal with Gabe and his disabilities.  I believe these lessons have helped Gabe become the independent socially appropriate high school athlete that he is.  Long ago I told Dr. Schaull, who was also a neighbor, that I had been mad at him but long since realized he did the right thing.  I am very grateful to him, Sharon Gibbs, Susie Janasov, Mrs. Chaney and all the people at Fayette Progressive School for starting us on the right track. Striving for Independence: Ways to Help Children with Disabilities Learn to Function More Indepedently eBook: Kristan Payne: Kindle Store