Today was another big day at the Graham household. JD started the autism prek program at Dr. Phillips High School... yes, you heard it right - high school. It's a brand new pilot program in Orange County Public Schools (OCPS) and we happened to be registering him for prek services right when it opened so we got in. To be honest, I wasn't very happy about the idea at ALL when they told me he'd be going there. The thought of my 3-year-old little boy at a high school did not make me feel very comfortable. My mom-guard flew up and I went into immediate fight mode... arguing why it would ever be a good idea for preschoolers to co-mingle with teenagers! However, the program had something that no other school had - something that made it worth a shot - the Exceptional Ed teacher of the year for the state of Florida in 2010. Hmmm... I figured I should put my guard down and listen as much as I didn't want to.
When we moved to Dr. Phillips about six months ago, we went ahead and found a daycare where JD could mainstream. He was in a normal class, but we had a 1:1 shadow with him during the "structured" hours of 8-12. He did really well there, and I was amazed at how much he learned to cope with his sensory issues (there were 16 kids in his class!) as well as trying to socially fit in. There were only two problems... the first was that he wasn't up to speed with the educational tasks for his age - drawing, cutting, painting, etc. and needed more support in that area. The second was that it was completely unrealistic to keep paying for him to be in full-time daycare with a 1:1 aide. So we started looking for options back in November.
JD has been eligible for a public school prek program since turned three last March, however we've always chosen to keep him in a private school because I like him with "neurotypical" kids. I found that inclusion (being around other kids his age) actually seemed to help him develop more than normal therapy. However, behaviorally he has some issues and those can't be ignored. Jason and I met with OCPS and learned more about the program. There are only 9 kids total in the classroom, and there are 3 teachers. You can't beat that ratio. He'll also get speech therapy there each week. The best part is that it's free.
So today he started - he's now an official DPHS Panther "Cub" - and from what his teacher said, he did really well. I was really nervous. I hate changing his schedule and I felt horrible leaving him there with strangers, but I know he'll be just fine. It was a big day for him, and as you can see from the pictures below, he was pretty stressed out. I picked him up at 2:45, brought him home and he laid on the couch watching tv.
I'm really proud of my little guy. I know this isn't easy for him at all, but he's one tough cookie. He even met a little friend named CJ who he played with most of the day. I look at the pictures from today and I can't believe how big he is now... we started this journey almost two years ago and it's been a road filled with twists and turns and more twists. I can only hope that we'll eventually find a path that's a little straighter.