I met Kent's mom Linda "many, many, many" years ago when we were both heavily involved with the Autism Society of Wisconsin. Unlike the past three blog posts which were about younger people with disabilities, this one gives us insight into the education and transition of someone a bit older. Here is Kent's story.
Kent at 28
Reflections of an Education
Kent Breuer was raised with the spirit of community inclusion since he entered school with a diagnosis of Autism back in 1990. From 1st grade on he was in a regular classroom in his neighborhood school with his age peers.
Kent had the most difficult time in the 2nd grade. Hitting, kicking, screaming, meltdowns, and pull outs to a quiet area had escalated to almost daily occurrences. His aides had to wear arm and shin guards for their own protection. Our IEP meetings were breeding grounds for panic attacks. The daily take home progress journal became the journal of nightmares. School was at a loss for things to try to get this child under control. Teachers questioned the value of him being in their class. There seemed to be more struggles in school than at home so we blamed the school for not addressing the needs of our child.
If there was anytime I thought about pulling my son out of school, it was then. Then, as they say, a small miracle happened. Through connections with our local Autism Society chapter, I heard of an Autism consultant who was willing to come to our school and observe my son’s day. I’ll never forget the first thing he said to my husband and I after meeting our son. “You have an extremely intelligent boy there.” Positive
comments from medical and educational staff were extremely rare back then so I was blown away.
The Autism consultant went on to say a large part of my son’s difficulty in school was twofold. One, there was a lack in understanding of what autism was and how it affects the body. Two, he felt my son was responding at school out of fear and anger because he was being talked down to and treated as if he was broken. The consultant called me in to observe a typical school day. My son displayed a total aggressive meltdown with 2 and sometimes 3 staff people used to hold him down until he was so physically exhausted he went limp. I remember crying and feeling helpless to intervene. The consultant later asked me if I saw what happened from the point of escalation to meltdown. He was able to point out every step of what caused my son to go deeper and deeper until the point of no return. There was a feeling of dread when I heard the consultant say, “If we don’t do something about this now, your child may be headed for an institution.”
He spent the next week working with staff at school and counseling my husband and I on techniques to work through autism rages. I was able to attend school to be Kent’s aide for a week, using the style and tips the consultant mapped out to facilitate information to and from my son, gaining his trust, demonstrating how to be his interpreter for others, working through fears slowly replacing bad experiences with positive ones. His advice for the staff….treat my son like the bright and gifted human being he is and they will see a remarkable difference.
My son and his school turned a corner in 3rd grade that changed his life. My son was given the opportunity to be in the selection process for a new aide. Several school staff members continued on with training in the area of Autism. I became more involved in the school, my community, my local chapter.. learning more about advocacy, interventions, and therapies through trainings and conferences. My husband and I worked to offer our son a variety of experiences in a variety of settings with a variety of people.
Kent’s school years are a series of flashbacks or as he would say now, “Kodak moments.” Such as singing with his classmates during Christmas concerts, dancing in the chorus in a junior high school play, being a member of the high school swim team, and achieving the Eagle rank in Boy Scouts after earning 25 merit badges and completing a service project in his community for Special Olympics.
During the time of school transition (16-21), Kent was provided the unique opportunity to try out different fields of work in the community for a portion of his school day assisted by his aide who acted somewhat as a job coach. Kent experienced such jobs as working with horses, data entry, stocking shelves, shredding documents for a legal firm and making boxes for the shipping department of a local business. The last work opportunity evolved into a part time job in Burlington. He’s been there for 8 years and remains one of their best employees for that job.
Sometimes I think about what would really have happened if we didn’t get help and a new direction back in the 2nd grade. What if that autism consultant hadn’t come into our lives and changed the course of our son’s education? What if we had given up on working with the schools to improve learning experiences for students with autism? How different would my son’s life be after spending his formative years in an institution? I wonder sometimes about the path not taken.
School was a vital part of Kent’s development and chances for learning opportunities. He still has autism, very much impacting his communication, sensory system, and social interactions. He still is learning and growing in understanding, as am I, as is our family, and as is everyone who is lucky enough to know and work with him in our community.
I can’t speak for other families, but I know my child changed dramatically for the better when attitudes changed from the people around him to assume intelligence and not treat him as if he was a damaged human. There is a saying that goes something like… “parents who feel lucky in having their children, have children who are lucky to have those parents”. I think the same holds true for schools and communities. Working to change attitudes towards people with autism and other disabilities is one of the best things we can do for our children.