I started to book my appointments to visit the 3 options the district presented us. My husband couldn't attend with me because of work at first but came back with me this past Monday to make the decision.
This school is about 40 minutes from our house. All 3 of them were that far from our house so she'll be on the bus for awhile to and from school. This school is a private school and is one of the best in our area that has a specific Autism program starting at age 5. Some of the things she'll be able to do there: weekly pool therapy in house, weekly outings to the community, music therapy, art, recess 2x a day. They have huge sensory/quiet rooms. They actually have rooms for OT that consist of a ball pit, trampolines, swings. It's a Christian based school but as a Catholic I'm used to seeing crosses and all that stuff all over the place but there was none of that but just a few Bible verses and some Jesus paintings. It's very minimal. The school itself has a low turn around for teachers/aides/therapists which is a good thing. The actual campus feels like a real school as well.
|Pool, classroom, touchscreen board in all rooms.|
|Hallway that has textured walls, and the lighting was so different.|
This was the public coop (5 school districts) option. I was hesitant to go to this one because nobody I knew had heard of this public school option. But basically it's the best kept secret for Autism families in the south suburbs of Chicago. I'm not joking on this. I was pissed after I left this school. Let me tell you why.
In May 2011 we had Avery's original IEP meeting. I knew then that she needed to be in a full day program geared for Autistic kids. I even visited an Autism school just down the road from school 2 (this school is not an option now imo). I even told the school district in our meeting, "What happens when this doesn't work out?" They then got defensive and said, "You haven't even given us a chance yet." (and if you are asking if they really said this, YES, I documented that whole meeting) This was when we were told that there aren't any full day preschool options for kids with Autism in our area. It was then decided to have more frequent meetings in regards to progress. I believed what they told me.
The program offered at school 2 is basically the same program offered from school 1 but for preschool kids!! It was everything I would have wanted for her 2 years ago and considering all the difficulties she had at the beginning of the year she could have been in from the start of this year. The kicker part of all of this is that the current administrator for this program at school 2 used to run a similar program at her current school. When 2 communities pulled out of our current coop they decided to END the Autism program. END IT. This is when she moved to this coop. IF I had known about this program at school 2 I would have NEVER have signed Avery's original IEP plan. I would have fought tooth and nail to have her start at school 2. I left that school crying, pissed and aggravated because I kept wondering "how far would she be today if only..." I have since informed all of my friends and advocate friends about this option for kids in our area. I also have informed the school district on how this should have been an option for her from the very beginning.
This was another private placement school about 35 minutes from our house. It is a newer school and has a lot of help for parents and parental involvement. It also has rave reviews from people have sent their kids there. It doesn't take kids until age 5 as well. It is housed in an office park. This is not uncommon. Many of the private placement schools instead of wasting money on building a building utilize their funds for other stuff like equipment or aides. So the whole feeling of the building was a bit different from the minute we walked in. * I first visited this school the morning I was heading to my cousins funeral with my father. So he actually got to see Autism in a whole new different light.
Because the building is an office building the set up was different than school 1. The classrooms were large and on the right of the hallway, therapy and sensory rooms were on the left (visualize conference rooms).
|Those little alcoves on the right are to view into the rooms. Squeeze box on right.|
School 3 did basically everything school 1 did. A few things were different like their was no weekly pool therapy on site. School 3 did have animals for that type of environment vs school 1 did not. The playground area in both schools was fenced in of course. School 3 did not provide lunches where school 1 could and can comply with a GF/CF diet if needed and do food therapy. I witnessed them restraining children with CPI at both schools. It's not something you want them to have to do to your child but if they are a danger to themselves or others it has to be done. Each school was the same distance basically from home and from her therapy place.
So where did we end up?
On Monday my husband and I went back to visit Schools 1 & 3. If Avery had started at school 2 we probably wouldn't have even looked at schools 1 & 3. We basically redid the tours that I had done and he got to ask questions himself. On the tour of school 1 the director was talking about God and going on and on a bit and I'm like holy crud. (My husband not a believer, blah blah blah) and I thought for sure it was a no go. Then we went to see school 3. As we walked out of the second school I asked him what he thought. He then said, "school 1" Which was my gut feeling from the beginning. He said as well as I did that school 1 felt like a real school and it felt inviting and that we would be comfortable with her there. Also her current speech therapist used to work at this school before she left to open her own therapy clinic. That was part of the equation as well.
With having these great options available to her it was hard to make a decision. It also ended up being frustrating esp after visiting school 2. Now the district has set up an in house observation for the new school to come see her. And I'm counting down the days til she goes to a new school.