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I was trying to learn as much as possible about autism. Most of all I needed to know how best to help Kat. I attended training by COSAC and their representative came in to show us how to work with her. It was a couple of hours, enough time for me to realize that this does not come naturally to us and we need someone else to work with Kat.

I read the story Son-Rise, about a family that was able to reach their son with autism. At first I thought, "We can do this!" As I read on I realized that it meant a total sacrifice of the whole family financially, time requirements and emotionally. We would have to drop everything, go for extensive and expensive training, come back, find people, hire people to work with Kat 16 hours each day. Kelsey was just as important as Kat, this would have turned her life upside down and no guarantees that this would be effective in helping Kat. We were new to the area and did not know anyone. Our families lived 2 hours away. So we focused on finding other ways to try and help Kat out.

I started to look at schools for kids with autism instead. There weren't that many seventeen years ago. I was working in Wilmington area and found out about a public school program in Christiana School district in Delaware. I made an appointment and with great anticipation went there one morning. As I parked the car I realized that I was not going into the main school building, but was directed to two trailers next to the school. To my dismay I found out that the classrooms for autism were in the trailers and not part of the school. I can't remember how the classrooms were arranged but I do remember what the kids were working on. Some were identifying colors, others were sorting, buttons, by color or size. Older kids were learning to sort mail. There was one aspect that Did get me excited and that was the prospect that some of the children were actually taken to the main school lunchroom and had lunch together with public school kids.

Other things that I remember is the way the kids behaved. They all were compliant, no fun or excitement, more like zombies going through the motion. The saddest part I remember was one young girl, about thirteen years old. A look of sadness and shock came over my face, because I remember my guide quickly explaining things before I even got to ask any questions. She tried to tell me that the girl was fine and not affected by the situation. I found it hard to believe. It's almost 17 years later and if I close my eyes I can still see her as if she is sitting in front of me today.

She was locked in a seat that restricted her from movement. Her head was encapsulated in a thick oversized helmet that did not give her much visibility. Her eyes looked down as if through me below my waist. Her face was expressionless. Her elbows were hanging over the sides of the chair and her lower arms and hands were completely bandaged up. At first I thought she may have been a burn victim. Her guide explained to me that she has autism.

She further informed me that the reason why she was constrained was to prevent herself from self-injurious behaviors. If she did not wear the helmet she could bang her head so hard that it could cause a concussion. The hands were bandaged up so to prevent her from biting the flesh of her hands and fingers, which she would if they were unprotected.

This young lady had the most profound effect on me. Could this be Kat in the future? The day I saw her I promised myself that I would do anything possible so that Kat never ends up like this.

I went home with mixed feelings. Part of me knew we had to get Kat out of her current placement of wasting precious time with silly circle time songs. Part of me wanted to move to Delaware right away so that Kat may attend at least lunch with regular public school. Part of me though wandered, why are they working on sorting mail all these years? If they can teach them to sort, why can't they teach them to read and write? How can they make a decision so early in kids life, that this is all they will be capable of. When Kat grows up, no one will sort mail, machines will be doing that. What will happen to these kids then?

I knew one thing for sure, there was a lot more that Kat should be doing now. There has to be a better place for her than the glorified 1/2 day day-care our district put her in. She has been there for over six months. It takes them time to get ready, time to eat, time to pack up and go home. She may be getting 1/2 to 1hr of actual instruction and two hours commute, We are wasting her time. Yes, there is progress, but an infant makes more progress in 1 week than Kat in 6 months. At this rate she would never have a chance to catch up to her peers. We had to find another school.


Danuta - Kat's Mom, March 31, 2007

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