Meet the Wolk Family – “our family has a school where we feel like we belong.”
We have always had problems with aggression with Ethan, but it became worse when he entered adolescence. During his middle school years, the company that provided ABA for our family discontinued therapy for him twice, and he was hospitalized once for two weeks because of extremely aggressive behaviors. He would get aggressive toward therapy staff, his parents, and his younger sister. He has kicked holes in walls multiple times and destroyed a lot of property. The last time our ABA company discontinued services for him, they told us that they could no longer help him and they recommended that he be placed in a residential care facility.
Shortly after that, he began having problems at school. He would yell, get aggressive, and was generally unsafe. Eventually the district told me that they could no longer accommodate Ethan and recommended placement at a therapeutic day school. We placed him at one of the day schools in the area, but Ethan continued to struggle both at school and at home. In the meantime, we found another ABA therapy company and we were able to get the children’s waiver and crisis support services for both Ethan and Bianca.
The next year, Bianca began having trouble at school. She has a lot of sensory issues, and would yell and shriek to the point of being extremely disruptive. She would run out of the room, and a few times, out of the building. Again, the district decided that they could no longer accommodate her and recommended out of district placement. The first school we visited was Clare Woods Academy. They had not had openings when Ethan was out placed so I had not seen it before. I knew immediately that this was the school I wanted Bianca to attend.
In the meantime, I was not happy with Ethan’s school situation. In the placement that he was in, he was continuing to have extreme behaviors and was requiring some type of physical restraint at least three times a week. There were expectations that he was not meeting and they continued to allow him to fail without introducing more support for him (visual reminders, checklists, etc) so that he could be successful. I began the process of getting Ethan into Clare Woods as well. I was very nervous that his behaviors might continue there, but I hoped that he would be so happy at Clare Woods that he would not engage in the same behaviors that he had in his previous schools.
Ethan and Bianca have been at Clare Woods Academy for over a year now, in tenth and eighth grade, respectively. Not only has Ethan NEVER needed to be restrained there, he has had very few behaviors there at all. Any escalations he has had have been extremely short lived and very manageable. The staff continually tells me they find him pleasant, gentle, and in general a joy to have. In addition, the improvement in Ethan’s academics has been significant this year. At the beginning of this school year, Ethan would just sit at his desk and do nothing without being constantly prompted. Now most days he does his morning work with hardly any prompting at all.
He has progressed in math, and he has made significant progress with his writing. Writing is not a preferred activity for Ethan, but he loves to make up goofy stories. His classroom staff allows him to dictate stories and then he copies them. To me, what sets Clare Woods apart from Ethan’s former school is that at Clare Woods, they found a way to motivate Ethan to learn through his own interests and strengths. His language has also improved greatly. He self advocates more, and puts together longer, more novel sentences to express his needs and wants. He has a good friend at school, and he loves being in choir. My hopes were realized. He is extremely happy there and his behavior has improved immensely.
Bianca has settled down somewhat, and the OT department continues to work with her to help fill her many sensory needs in more acceptable ways. Most days she scores 95 or above on a 100 point behavior system. Sometimes when she is upset at home she will ask me if she can go to Clare Woods Academy tomorrow. She also continues to make academic progress. She goes into the community weekly with her girls’ group and then with her occupational therapist, verbally recounts what happened while her OT creates a picture story on boardmaker based on what Bianca tells her. She also participates in the school’s beauty shop on Friday afternoons with the other girls in the school.
Our home life is calming down also, I think in large part because Ethan and Bianca are getting what they need at school. They are happy at school and they are getting the behavioral, emotional and academic support that they need. This is making a positive difference for them individually and for our family as a whole. After years of always having two kids in different programs and different schools, of feeling like outsiders in public schools with events our kids were not really equipped to participate in, our family has a school where we feel like we belong. We are able to attend our kids’ concerts, send them to homecoming and prom, display their art work, and know we have a school where they are loved and treasured as the unique individuals they are.