It’s been a while since I’ve posted new material – about eight months. A few things changed since my last post while others have stayed the same. Cristian has kept Esther and I busy. I’ve been writing — just not for this blog. I’ll be posting about that in 2020.
A few months ago, Cristian turned 5. Last year, I wrote a heartfelt post for his birthday, this year we focused on giving him a birthday party that focused on the children. Too many times, we’ve gone to birthday parties disguised as weddings. I’ll admit, I enjoyed the bacon-wrapped scallops, pigs in a blanket, and open bar — a lot — it wasn’t how we wanted to celebrate Cristian’s birthday. Cristian and his cousins had a blast running and running and bouncing around the trampoline park where we celebrated his birthday.
In addition to planning his birthday, Esther and I spent much of 2019 finding a good kindergarten for Cristian. The old me would have spent a good twenty minutes goofing on any person using that last sentence. It’s amazing how one’s opinion changes when one’s perspective does. I still goof on things, like gender-reveal parties — I was at one of those a few days ago.
In New York City, special needs children, including those with autism, cognitive delays, emotional disturbances, sensory impairments, or multiple disabilities are assigned to a District 75 School. We spent much of the past year having Cristian evaluated by various mental health professionals and specialists or conducting site visits of potential schools. This daunting process is more difficult because the bureaucrats parents are required to work with — they don’t make the process easy.
The system is Darwinian — set up for most to fail. Esther’s background as an Early Intervention and CPSE (Committee of Special Education) Coordinator gave her insight to how the system worked — but it didn’t make navigating it easier. To someone like me, it seemed like the goal was to have parents bang their heads against the wall from all the bureaucratic nonsense. After a few too many bumps and bruises, many give up and quit.
Cristian is fortunate that his favorite person is a capable advocate. People meeting Esther learn quickly that she doesn’t give up easily. Whether she’s a running a marathon, or fighting for her son’s services—his mom has a never-say die attitude that serves him well.
By late Summer, after a series of phone calls to case managers, and follow-ups with their supervisors, we ensured placement in a District 75 school where we felt Cristian’s needs would be met. At the end of July, Esther and I toured the school with a group of anxious parents. The administrators said all the right things as we visited the facilities where the children would get therapy and services. Everything should have been fine, but looking over at Esther, I realized they weren’t. She wasn’t feeling it in her gut. If eleven years together taught me anything, it’s trust her gut.
Trusting her intuition, she found a private school in Nassau County where she was blown away by what she saw. They use the ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) method, which Cristian has responded to. Unlike the Public Schools we toured, they were better equipped to deal with Cristian’s specific needs. Besides being autistic, he’s ADHD. In a classroom setting, he’s a runner. He ran out of his preschool classroom during this Turning Five Evaluation. That incident stuck with Esther. The non-answers she received on several school tours gave her that funny feeling.
A week later, Cristian and I joined Esther for a tour of this private school in West Hempstead — The Gersh Academy. After several months of touring schools and feeling something was missing, we found a school that got Cristian. There was one problem — the school was pricy — out of our budget pricey.
After some research, we retained the services of a lawyer to take Cristian’s case to the Department of Education. If the DOE cannot meet his specific needs, let’s put him in an environment with professionals who can.
Cristian started at The Gersh Academy in September, while his case is still pending. Since then, his growth and development have been remarkable.
As I look back on 2019, I’ll remember two things about Cristian. The joy and happiness he showed us bouncing around a trampoline park with his cousins and closest friends on his fifth birthday. The other is the meetings, phone calls, and evaluations to ensure we placed Cristian in an environment that ensured his growth and development when that day at the trampoline park is a distant memory.