January 11, 2008 by Marj Hatzell
My Sister-in-law and her husband are moving back to Utah. They lived in PA, LVNV (what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas!), UT, CA, and NJ. This is in twelve years. They just moved OUT of UT in 2006. And now they are moving back there.
The Brother-in-law basically got an offer he cannot refuse. They moved to Utah initially because he became involved in the 2002 Olympics and he obtained a PHAT job. They scored tickets to some events, concerts and such and Darling even went out there to enjoy a week of it. I stayed home with Baby Bug Boy (who was one at the time) and I was newly preggers with Bugaboo but didn’t know it yet. I mean, really newly. As in, maybe a week. But I digress…
So, fast forward a few years, they moved to CA for a PHAT job that tanked after a year. They decided to move to NJ to be closer to family (they rented a house from BIL’s sister) and we’ve enjoyed having them for holidays and birthdays and just whenever-we-feel-like-seeing-them weekends. As much as I loathe the beach (loathe is not strong enough, how about detest?) we have enjoyed being in proximity to the beaches and boardwalk but far enough away to stay out of the shore traffic. A year ago they received an offer that they originally received while still living in Utah and passed on to move to CA. The offer was revised several times over the summer. Brother-in-law made some ridiculous numbers and demands, thinking, “Nah. They ain’t going for it. But this is fun.” And then in November they matched the offer. And BIL and SIL were all, “Uuuuuhhhh. Okaaay. Now what?” So they hemmed and hawed. And procrastinated. And asked for more time to consider it. And the first week of December BIL flew out there to meet with them. And then they thought some more. And on Christmas they had decided they were going for it. And none of us were surprised, since they had been considering it for months. Plus, they hate NJ. Maybe hate isn’t strong enough of a word. Detest?
Anyways, this week I’ve got their three-year-old while they look at houses in Utah. BIL had some meetings and such to go to and he starts at the end of the month, though he is consulting and phone conferencing until then. He’s gonna be vice president of this company with big fat vacations and moving costs and a three figure salary. Since they were barely making ends meet in NJ, they are relieved and excited. And as much as they didn’t like Utah they were USED to it and had tons of friends there. Plus, the climate rocks. Arid, snow, warm springs, warm falls. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen. Gorgeous views! Close to everything and family oriented! It truly is a nice place to live. If you are Mormon.
And they aren’t. But there are Gentiles that live there and everyone knows who’s a club member and who isn’t. It’s weird that way! But, a great, family-oriented state. SLC is gorgeous! And if we weren’t so content in PA…
We’d never live there. It is soooo tempting, especially since Darling’s industry does exist in Utah. The houses are cheaper, the taxes are nearly nothing and the schools (for the most part) are great. But special services? Schools for Autism? Very, very few. In fact, I researched quite a bit and found two schools for Autism. One was $20,000 tuition a year. The other’s tuition was based on 10% of your salary. And it was an hour away. It seems that Utah is following the trend of the Gaskin Law. The SDs want inclusion. It’s cheaper and easier for them to set up a support classroom and then gradually mainstream the kids and eventually have them in the regular class. They can hire an OT or PT or SLP by the hour to only service a certain amount of kids. They can pay a young teacher a criminal amount (because, after all, it is special ed). It is waaaay cheaper than sending the kid out of district and paying a private school tuition and having to be responsible for transportation. The parents want inclusion, because we’ve been told for years that inclusion is possible, it is their right and it is the desired outcome. Or is it?
My personal opinion is that the smaller the class size the better the child will do. Typical kids can function well in a classroom of eighteen to twenty. Our school district does this very well, with slightly larger classes in the upper grades. But kids like Bugaboo? How in the HECK is he going to deal with that kind of over-stimulation? How is he going to get that kind of attention and support? How are they going to meet his needs, deal with his behaviors, keep him on task and meet his goals? And, don’t even mention the fact that he is going to be a HUGE DISTRACTION to the other kids when he is stripping, peeing on the floor, shreiking that nice, high-pitched squeal of his. Oh, and the stimming. Don’t get me started on the stimming. No, I’d say Bugaboo is not quite ready for that type of environment.
But is he entitled to it? Does he deserve it? In a way, yes. But, under the IDEA special education laws, there is also a mention of Least Restrictive Environment. That environment (in my humble opinion) would be MOST restrictive to Bugaboo at this point. There may come a time and place where he is expressive enough (and toilet-trained enough) that he can function adequately in an environment like that. But is it specialized enough? If he has the right to be educated with his peers, does he also have the right to be sent to a school that is highly specialized, that is an expert location for children with needs such as his? Doesn’t he have the right to INTENSE therapy, 1:1 ratio in the classroom of FOUR children and a safe, nurturing environment with people who understand him? Some advocates of inclusion would say no. There is NO NEED to send him to an environment like that. But the truth of the matter is that while a safe, nurturing environment that specializes in Autism is available to Bugaboo, the school district does have a support class available. But, is it adequate? Will it meet his needs? Does HE want to be with the other kids? Has anyone asked him?
That’s where I come in. I’m his momma, and I’ve got to advocate for him. And, if he could speak, I think he’d tell me he wants to stay put. He wants to repeat another year of preschool (even though he is technically Kindy age in the spring) and then he wants to move on to first grade. You see, Early Intervention gets TONS of funding. His needs are being well-met there. But Kindy? Not considered compulsory education in PA. In fact, you don’t even HAVE to enroll your child until age eight. Kindy gets no funding. Believe it or not, even though most school districts offer it in PA it isn’t mandatory and some districts do not offer it. And since they don’t get much by way of extra funding, many around these parts don’t even offer a full-day Kindy unless it is for kids with special needs. Demographics kinda dictate that. Our district does NOT have a regular, full-day kindy. They have one support class (mixed special needs) and one extended-day class for kids that need a little extra support (Bug Boy was in that class to get OT and Speech). But can they specialize in Bugaboo’s communication? Can they offer behavioral support full-time? Can they deal with potty training (or lack thereof?)? Some parents would say, “They HAVE to!” But do I want that for him? Do I want him to be with staff that doesn’t really want him there? Do I want to put him there because he is entitled to it or is he better off (again, my humble opinion) in a school that is invested in his success? See, there is a big difference in HAVING to meet his goals and WANTING to ensure he exceeds them. And that, to me, is the difference between a specialized, private education and the compulsory, public one.
I think you know where we are sending him, when it is time.
And don’t get me started on homeschool. Because believe me, we’ve considered it. Heck, I WORKED with many children like Bugaboo. When you know one child with autism you know ONE CHILD with autism. No two snowflakes are alike, my friends. And even though Bugaboo has a Momma that is great with kids with special needs, Momma has her limitations and is already teetering on the brink of stress-induced fantasy and reality. And Momma’s reality is she just cannot mentally hack that child in this house twenty-four hours a day. Momma also feels she is not objective enough to teach him herself. And, besides, if I was doing that great of a job, he’d be going to a typical school, right (okay, to be fair, I’m beating myself up. But it is because I am still trying to talk myself out of homeschool.)?
So anyways, the whole point of this (if there is one) is that I visited no less than eight programs that specialize in Autism. Eight. I have eight private schools to choose from and four public programs in addition to that. That makes twelve, for those of you good at math. Twelve. Does that even exist in other states? My research tells me NO. We’ve got it good here. So quit yer whining, folks.