Hart to Heart: Save School for Autistic ChildrenPrint This Post Dec 26th, 2008 | By admin | Category: Education
The following article appeared in the online edition of the Savannah Morning News. It brings to light the uncertainties parents face when trying to find a sound educational program for their children. The Jacobsons offer a compelling story:
Wed all like to believe wed do anything for our child.
Especially a child with special needs.
But would you move from a place you love and quit your job so your child could attend a specialized school to help him? Then, once he was enrolled and thriving, would you do whatever it took to save that school from being closed down by state budget cuts?
Thats what Kate and Martin Jacobson are doing.
Their son, Mikyle, 12, is one of a dozen students at The Matthew Reardon Centers Advance Academy in Savannah, which serves children with neurological disorders, mostly autism.
This summer, the Jacobsons moved from Pawleys Island, S.C., so Mikyle could attend the year-round Advanced Academy. Martin quit his job as a family practice physician and found work in Bluffton. Kate gave up practicing psychotherapy.
Its worth the sacrifice, Mikyles mom says. The public school environment wasnt helping Mikyle, who has pervasive development disorder, which is on the autism spectrum, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. There were no other resources for him in their area.
Mikyle needed a place committed to children like him. The Jacobsons found such a place in the Matthew Reardon Center.
“The expertise of the staff and their commitment to this little tiny school blew us away,” his mother said. “It gave us hope for the first time.”
But now the school, which serves children ages 5-17, is at risk of being shut down at the end of this year.
The Georgia Department of Human Resources slashed 50 percent of funds for the center as part of an overall, statewide $2.4 million budget cut. Cuts to Matthew Reardon were retroactive starting July 1, meaning $325,000 disappeared from their $650,000 state contract.
The private school is working to raise $150,000 between now and the new year to remain open, said executive director Helen Waters.
The accredited schools sliding-scale annual tuition of $7,000 and less doesnt cover the $37,000 a year it costs to educate each child, Waters said.
“It would be easy to say Lets raise tuition to a more realistic level reflecting the cost of the childs education,” Waters said. “But how many parents can realistically afford $25,000 or more in private school tuition?”
The funding cuts come at a time when autism diagnoses have increased to 1 out of every 150 children and public school systems are stretched thin to serve the jump in autistic students.
“When you have skyrocketing autism numbers, why cut the funding for autism services by 50 percent?” Waters said.
Where Autistic Children are the Focus
Cabelle Robles drives her 8-year-old son, Grayson, back and forth to the Matthew Reardon Center from their home in Midway for a total of 100 miles a day.
In order to make the long commute twice a day, she quit her job as a child support enforcement agent with the Liberty County District Attorneys office after Grayson made it off the schools yearlong waiting list and finally was accepted this past August.
“This is the one place he can thrive,” Robles said. “Its inconceivable theyd close the school. There is nowhere else to send my child for individualized help.”
Grayson has autism and epilepsy. He tries to talk but doesnt form words properly. Poor motor skills means the child also has difficulty signing and cannot write.
He used to dislike school so much that his mother had to drag him to the special education class at a public school in Midway.
Now at Matthew Reardon, Grayson looks forward to getting to his classroom, which has a 2 to 4 teacher-student ratio.
Being able to have therapeutic services - occupational, speech, music and physical - within the school gives Danny and Cabelle Robles hope their only child will eventually be able to communicate.
“They try to make him as self-sufficient as possible,” Cabelle Robles said. “Their No. 1 priority is your child. Where else are we going to find that?”
Kate Jacobson recalls the moment she knew relocating for the sake of their son was the right decision.
It was during the first few weeks after Mikyle started at Matthew Reardon. He was going through a tumultuous adjustment, including not sleeping and having frequent meltdowns. Jacobson saw Mikyle’s teacher Robert Irving, his arms wrapped around a crying, screaming Mikyle. The teacher was soothing him saying “Mikyle, it’s going to be OK.”
“I had never seen a teacher do that. Instead it was always “Stop it, Mikyle! Or ‘Calm down,’ ” Jacobson said. “I had this sense of Mikyle being understood for the first time. You just can’t find that anywhere.”
Improvements in Mikyle since being in a class with a 3-9 ratio of teachers to students include less frequent meltdowns and nightmares, less impulsive behaviors and a desire to behave more appropriately. No longer does Mikyle’s mother receive calls during the school day saying “Come and get him,” as she did when Mikyle was in a S.C. public school.
No wonder the Jacobsons e-mailed family and friends asking them, in lieu of holiday gifts this year, to please make donations to save their son’s school instead.
“We didn’t get this far without fighting,” Jacobson said. “We’ll fight to keep this school open.”
Which is, after all, what parents do for their children.
Donations to help save the school can be made at www.matthewreardon.org.
Contact the writer, Anne Hart, at email@example.com.
Visit her Web site for local parents at www.southernmamas.com.