An Autism Awareness Month Story

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A story in honor of Autism Awareness Month:

I spent three days visiting the Grand Canyon this week with about 40 elementary school kids from Miles Exploratory Learning Center, a K-8 TUSD school on Broadway Boulevard. I've been back for two days, and I'm tired and now sick—my immune system is not used to being exposed to all those kiddy germs at one time.

Despite the aftermath, the experience was so fun learning alongside my son, his friends and classmates.

It was a fun school-trip adventure, but also a test for my son, who was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome and high-functioning autism at age 5. He's 8 now, and in the third-grade. Since our move to Tucson almost three years ago he's been through so much in finding the right school district and school. There were a couple of absolute disasters, but that proved to be a test for us—his parents—in how to be better advocates for him. We did everything that had been recommended to us—occupational therapy for sensory issues and behavioral therapy—and all along, we kept expecting teachers and school staff to understand how to work successfully with this willful perfectionist/smart kid.

We discovered it doesn't work that way, and we figured out that the only persons who really understood how to work with our kid were us—his parents. Last year, we asked TUSD to transfer our son to Miles; our gut told us that it would better for him if he went to school closer to our house and would have more success in a K-8 setting. Every week now, my husband and I say to ourselves how lucky we are that TUSD miraculously approved our request.

Then we had an interesting summer—a disastrous beginning in a program made for kids with emotional and physical disabilities. Our only choices at that point were mostly programs for typical kids. and we were honest with our son that these were his only choices, and he had to start making better choices regarding his behavior. He promised us he could do it, because he didn't want to go back to what he described as a "self-contained" camp.