He started in a special ed preschool program at 32months of age. He would go to school for a 1/2 day, 5 days a week and received speech therapy and 1:1 instructional time as well. Let me say here that we lived up in Northern VA at the time, in Loudon County. We got way more services than I thought we would and that very first teacher was a very crucial and critical part of helping and teaching Ashton how to communicate his very basic wants and needs. He picked up on the concept of PECS very quickly and a few months later was stringing PECS cards together to make small sentences to express his wants/needs. COMMUNICATION, it was amazing! He then started using something called a pacing board.... it was to help him space out his words so that he could learn to speak the words at a speed that was understandable, otherwise his words all came out as one big jumbled mess. He did very well and aside from only being 2.5/3-years-old when he started, he started communicating, but was still very much isolated in his own world. His communication was limited to his wants/needs and was never really appropriate. But, he could communicate SOME THING so we were thrilled.
That fall, he was accepted into an all-day autistic children's preschool program. He would get his speech therapy, some group OT therapy and the classroom was based on ABA principles, a . I fully believe this classroom was another crucial part of his current success. He got to go out on CBI (community based instruction) trips, and did fantastic. He was even going back to the (general) special ed preschool program for part of his day near the end of the year, because he didn't need the intense therapies, instruction that the other children in the autism class needed.
Then came the first big blow..... we moved from Northern VA to the Hampton Roads area when Ashton was 4. Keeping in mind we'd had a baby only a year prior and not only were we moving, but we now had a very active and precocious toddler around in addition to Ashton and we were in addition, trying to meet his needs. We made that decision so that we could be closer to family (in Northern VA we didn't have any close family nearby) and for our children to grow up with their aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents. What none of us anticipated though, was how much that move would set Ashton off on a horrific downward spiral. They didn't have an autistic children's program in the school district so he got thrown into the "catch-all" special ed preschool program. Which, probably would have been successful if we hadn't of just thrown him for a loop already with a move and a younger brother the year prior. It was six months of pure hell at school. We finally got him moved into a regional education program for children with autism. He did much better and thrived in that program. Over the next couple of years he progressed, maybe not as much as we would have liked in some areas (potty-training being one of them) but then in others, he seemingly out of nowhere knew how to do things (reading being one of those things). He went through several teachers and schools (uncommon in the special education realm, usually children have the same teachers/stay with the same school for elementary, and then the same cluster group in middle school and so on....).
Then the next big blow..... middle school. What we expected to be a happy and joyous time, turned out to be a literal disaster. Ashton was SO excited about middle school, in fact, asking to go to school the day after his last day of 5th grade! He was thrilled to be moving up to the "big kid" school! Within the first few weeks, I had a sinking feeling. He had started running out of the classroom, something he's never done before. Sometimes he was running with a "goal" (ie, getting to the bathroom, his classroom didn't have a bathroom in it like all previous classrooms did), but other times he seemed like he was running to "escape". Of course, I kept getting told "it's middle school, it's a big transition for 'normal' kids, but even more so for autistic kids, he'll adjust". Well, things never improved, and only got worse. We had several major incidences happen. He threw a ball at a kid's head, he stripped to complete nakedness IN the classroom (don't ask me how this happened in a classroom with at most 6 children and 4 adults), and a few days later, stripped to nakedness in the bathroom and went into the hallway and ended up getting suspended. It was obvious to me that something was going on, but I couldn't for the life of me figure it out. Lots of other bizarre things happened (peeing in a cup and drinking it, escaping from the building and running laps around it, which he got suspended for running out of the building ) and things just continued to decline. He was sent home probably at least 2-3 days a week near the end of his sixth grade year. To ME, it was very obvious that he wasn't the problem. He'd NEVER displayed ANY of those problems before, never! He ended up doing summer school that summer following sixth grade. Between camp (4 weeks), summer school and ESY services (speech, OT and 1:1 academic instruction) he made a lot of awesome progress. I was able to conclude that he really was NOT the problem. Well, seventh grade started and the weird and erratic behaviors started all over again (same teacher, same classmates). He got suspended within the first couple of weeks of school and again another week or two later. I was DONE. FED UP. PISSED OFF AT THE WORLD.
He's now in eighth grade and is doing VERY well! He's maintained an A/A- average all year so far and in fact, for the end of semester averages, maintained 3.85-4.0 - ALL As!!! :) SO PROUD! He's becoming incredibly social and loves being a part of his classroom. He's participating in group work, he's doing a lot more of his work independently, and is a contributing member of his classroom. He's got friends (see my last post) and he's becoming an incredible young man!
**edited to add** Ashton is actually doing SO well right now, that we're contemplating moving him onto high school in the fall! At the beginning of this school year in September, I would have said, absolutely no way. I want to keep him in his current placement. But he's gaining new skills almost daily and improves each and every day. His current teacher would like to keep him another year (and I don't doubt that it would be a good idea), but the idea of moving him back into our own "home" zone again is very appealing. Nearly his entire class is moving onto high school in the fall and all to their "home" school, which is not Ashton's home school, obviously. So even with the same teacher/school, he'd have to get used to a whole new group of classmates. It just almost feels like it would be better to do the whole move at one time, rather than spread that over 2 years. Now, I haven't made up my mind, one way or the other. I'm still waiting to get in and talk to the administration at the high school he will go to. But so far, they've been very welcoming with information and emailing me, keeping me updated. I have a good feeling about it, but I won't really know until I get in the building and see what the placement looks like, on whether or not we'll retain him for a year or let him move on to 9th grade. It's a hard decision and is one that could have a negative impact either way but either way could also have a positive impact. We'll see :)