When Liam was about three years old, I changed schools. It was for a lot less pay and during the interview, it was shared that as a courtesy, my kids could go to a day care owned and run by a board member. It was a huge blessing – the facility was on many acres, run by someone who was connected to education. We thought it would be wonderful.
And it was. Liam went into the three-year-old classroom and we actually saw improvements in many skills: social, movement, language, etc. He continued to receive early intervention there – it seemed perfect.
As Liam approached four, he was not fully potty trained. His peers started to be “promoted” to the four-year-old class. While Liam was older than some of them, he stayed in his current class. At first, I thought it was because of the potty training – fair enough- so we worked extra hard on it. After a month of success, Liam was still not promoted.
Meanwhile, new three-year-olds entered Liam’s class and we saw Liam revert in some of his behaviors – he was imitating these younger peers. His older peers had been effective role models for him, but now they were not in his class.
I called the director (the board member at my school), for a meeting.
At that meeting, it was shared with my husband and I that Liam would not be promoted until he had mastered all of the required skills needed in the four-year-old class. I shared with her how Liam was benefiting from the “mentor” behaviors and skills of his typically developing peers and that he was unlearning some skills due to being in class with younger children. She was adamant that he master those skills. I asked, “How is he going to learn them when no one is showing or teaching them to him? She proudly shared how she had kept a five-year-old who had been diagnosed with Down Syndrome in the infant class years prior, and that child was so happy to be in that class.
I was shocked. As an educator, I didn’t think the decision was in the best interest of either child, mine or the one who had been left in the nursery. I couldn’t believe that she wasn’t seeing Liam’s strengths or how he had made such growth over the past year. She was only “seeing” the needs of the other kids and the teachers, not Liam. (Please know that others’ needs are very importation to us and you will see in future posts that I have worked in the past to ensure that they were being “seen”).
We ended the meeting. That night and the next day, I called around to other day cares to inquire about open spaces for four-year-olds. I could not let one person dictate what Liam needed or what was in his best interest. I called the director that weekend to inform her that we were pulling both kids (Kieran was in the infant room) from her programs.
The remained of that year, we struggled with finances, as my salary stayed the same, but now we had two tuitions to pay. I left that position at the end of that school year and moved to public school – which was also a blessing.
This was the first time that I needed to advocate for Liam over someone else’s opinion of him. It was the first time that it felt like someone was against us and really not seeing his “light,” as I would come to call it. Thankfully everything worked out, better than could have been expected, actually. I have all of his therapists and doctors to thank for “preparing” me (unbeknownst to all of us) to fight for what he needed and not succumb to what others didn’t understand about autism.