This is an article from the spring 2016 issue of LSA Magazine. Read more stories from the magazine.
My son Josh was diagnosed with autism on July 21, 2003. The “A-word.” That’s what we called it. He was just over two years old at the time.
Back then, we thought Josh’s diagnosis was the worst thing in the world. We didn’t want to hear the “A-word,” but we were lucky. We knew another kid with autism, and that family was the first call we made. Those parents then gave us other people to call for help, including an inclusion-based preschool in Seattle. We enrolled Josh right away.
Josh spent the next few years there, making friends and getting therapy. When he was old enough, we enrolled him in the local public school, but almost right away we could tell it wasn’t a good fit. The teachers hadn’t been trained to work with kids like Josh, and they struggled to reach and include him.
Another mom that I had met at Josh’s inclusive preschool and I got to talking, and together with another family we decided to open an inclusive school together. We started in the basement of a local synagogue with four kids, all of whom were on the autism spectrum. By the end of that first year, we had five kids and five staff people. We started small, and we didn’t give up.
Year by year and bit by bit, the school kept growing. We went from 5 to 19 to 50 kids. Now we serve over 100 students, and we’re a successful and inclusive K-12 private school.
Looking back, I think that Josh’s diagnosis was probably the best thing in the world for our family. I really mean that. It has made us different people in so many ways. We don’t get stressed out about silly or pointless things. You learn pretty quickly not to sweat the small stuff. And I think you see that mindset in our school, also.
When Josh first went to that inclusive preschool, I was really focused on Josh having autism, on how terrible that diagnosis felt. But then we saw a kid in Josh’s class who had spina bifida, and another kid with Down syndrome. And we all learned very quickly that the real disability is often that people look at you not as a person but as a disability.
That’s what I wanted so badly for Josh, for him to have a safe place where people see him for who he is. And that’s what I want our school to be for every kid who goes there because every kid has something to teach us, because every kid deserves it.
Nancy Gordon is one of the founders of the Academy for Precision Learning in Seattle.