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"We Need to Pull Ryan into This World"

Still work to be done continued...

“We’ve had to make sacrifices,” says Nicole. “The trip we planned to Disney this spring was canceled. But this treatment is backed by scientific research, and we know the education that Ryan gets now will impact the quality of his whole life.”

The gamble is paying off. Though he cried at the start of the two-day training workshop, he adjusted by the second day. After hearing cheers when he stacked blocks the way his tutor requested, Ryan ran to his parents and said, “I’m Daddy’s big boy!” Says Tim, “To hear my son choose those words to celebrate his feeling of pride was incredible.”

After a month of working with his tutors, Ryan has made great improvement. For example, he’s learned how to sit in a chair and listen to instruction. “Now, when I say, ‘Come here,’ he comes,” says Nicole. “I’m not always chasing after him. Even his oldest sister, Ciera, has seen a difference. The other day she randomly said, ‘Mom, Ryan is doing so much better. Therapy is really working.’”

Looking ahead

Nicole is confident that the skills Ryan is gaining are preparing him for preschool in the fall. She wants him to be in a program where he’ll interact with at least some typical children. “Ryan does well around typical kids and could pick up more language and social skills from them,” she says. “In an autism classroom, he might be exposed to more aggressive behaviors.”

Because Nicole anticipated a battle in getting the placement she wants for her son, she didn’t waste time starting the process. First, she and Ryan went through a grueling four-hour assessment with experts from the school district to determine where Ryan was developmentally — information that would be used to decide which program he’d be placed in. Nicole was crushed as she listened to all the skills that Ryan was lacking; she was told, for instance, that typical kids his age use words that end in “ing.”

In the days before Ryan’s birthday on April 5, Nicole met with the school district again to go over his assessment and to come up with his Individualized Educational Program; this plan would establish his educational goals and ultimately his placement. To make sure Ryan’s needs would be met, Nicole brought along a paid legal advocate who is well-versed in Nevada laws surrounding special education.

The school experts began rehashing Ryan’s weaknesses, but because of a scheduling conflict, the meeting was cut short, so the group met yet again, a month later. This time, emotions ran high. “I told the board that I thought Ryan would do best in a class where some kids were typical and others had some delays,” says Nicole. “But when one expert said a full-day autism program was the right choice, I broke down crying. I said, ‘I wouldn’t ask you for something if I didn’t think my son would be successful. He has the legal right to prove you wrong.’ Other members of the board sided with her, and the district decided to place Ryan in a mixed disabilities class — a two-hour program, four days a week; he’ll start with one hour per day. “I’m happy that when he begins school in September, I can feel positive, not angry, about his placement,” says Nicole.

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