April is Autism Awareness Month! To help celebrate we will be featuring essays from those who chose to use the Ohio Autism Scholarship to obtain the services their child needs.
“Our family moved to Ohio the summer our son William turned three. During our time in Maryland, he had been diagnosed with multiple disabilities. He had received county services as a toddler and had an IEP. When we arrived here, my husband and I were informed that our local school district simply was not able to provide the services outlined in that IEP. We were also informed that in their opinion those special accommodations (like small class size) were actually unnecessary for him.
That was the beginning of our fight for an appropriate education for our son. In the process, we found that other parents and advocates had gone before us and created a system of redress. But we also learned that, while we could make the school district provide specific services, no legal action would envision them to see our son’s potential and pursue it whole-heartedly.
We began supplementing his services, and the next summer we withdrew William from the district and transitioned to a completely private education. We knew we were not giving William everything he needed, but we were doing as much as we could afford. William was only four at the time, and his future loomed in front of us. We were sure how we were going to maintain even the amount we were doing. We could not afford to move to a better district, and we were already depending on the generosity of extended family.
One day the answer came. At a parent-teacher conference, William’s private school teacher expressed her belief that William would greatly benefit from additional services. I told her I agreed and explained our financial situation. Then she told me about the Ohio Autism Scholarship Program. She said the school was already an Approved Provider, so William could continue to attend there. The Scholarship would also cover any other services listed in the IEP. And she kindly offered recommendations on how to get the school district to agree to those services.
At first I was hesitant to reopen negotiations with the school district. But I found the people at the Dept of Ed, Special Services very helpful. The Scholarship Application itself was fairly simple. And the Scholarship Program took a lot of the pressure out of the IEP process because the Approved Providers saw the IEP goals as a bare minimum rather than the sum total of the child’s individual programming.
When we returned to the school district to be evaluated for the new IEP, the speech therapist noticed William’s improved behavior. She was amazed and said, “I thought that was a part of who he was.” I was so grateful at that moment to know we would soon have many options of service providers.
The Scholarship has turned out to be as good as it sounded. William continues to attend his private school and has begun receiving occupational therapy, in-school speech, and in-home tutoring. His teachers and therapists understand him and know how to bring out his best. Most of them have decades of experience. Some of them even specialize in his more rare disabilities.
I have become a much more active member of the treatment team. For example, I have daily communication with whatever service providers he sees that day. So when William had some adverse behavioral reactions to the OT treatments, his occupational therapist and I were able to discuss how he was doing before and after each session. She adjusted the treatments accordingly, found a balance, and added a goal within three sessions. That saved us valuable treatment time as well as needless grief. That kind of regular communication also enables me to coordinate communication between services, including the private speech therapist we continue to pay ourselves.
The Ohio Autism Scholarship Program has opened the door to a truly excellent education for our son. We are so grateful to not be limited to the services and providers in our district but to have the very best in the county at our disposal. We are grateful for the teachers and therapists who have a vision for our son and his potential. We are grateful to be allowed to actively participate in the process. And most of all we are grateful for the amazing progress that William is making.
Back in Maryland, my husband and I heard horror stories of families who moved to Ohio and had to move back because of the lack of services for special needs kids. But because of the Ohio Autism Scholarship Program, we are convinced that our son is actually receiving a better education now than he would have received if we had not moved to Ohio.”