I went to an IEP meeting for Charlie yesterday. We just had an IEP meeting just under two months ago so there wasn't much to change, except for one thing.
Charlie's now a student in a different school district than in the one that we were having all that trouble with. This latter school district is in what's called "central New Jersey" and we're now living in a town that is alternately referred to as being in "northern New Jersey" and "north central New Jersey."
More specifically, we're living in not just any old town but the town in which we bought a house in 2003. And, we're living in the house.
The house is about 5 minutes from the train station of this north central Jersey town and close enough to New York that the night sky to the east always has an orangish glow. It's a modest house, with a flight of stairs leading to three bedrooms and the bathroom; hardwood floors; a fenced-in backyard; no garage. Jim and I were taken with the open space created by a living room and dining room that form an L with the kitchen. We moved in the day after President's Day (a day later than we had planned, as it snowed), seven years ago and hoped to stay here for our next 30 years.
We had chosen this town because we'd heard some good things about its special education programs for younger children and its proximity to New York. Jim was then teaching at the Bronx campus of Fordham University and, as we were living then deep in central New Jersey (this is a small state, but it has a lot of people and a lot of municipalities), his commute was ridiculous bordering on unreal (one year he had an 8am class; he'd come home at 10pm and be out the door at 4.30am to catch a 5-ish train, plus the town we lived in didn't have a train station so he had to drive 20 minutes to the next town to catch one). I had a 45 minute drive to my job and, after moving into our house, we were relieved to be much closer to work and to Charlie during the day.
Charlie spent two years in the autism program in this town in north central New Jersey and then, just before the time I started blogging, things fell apart. There was Plenty o' Contention. (A-hem.) We kept Charlie out of school for a month, Charlie got into a great private school that he loved, the school closed after seven months during which time we heard that there was a public school autism program using ABA in…….the very town that Jim's parents had lived in for 30 years. And so, in June of 2006, we moved in with my in-laws. Charlie liked his new school too and did very well in two different elementary schools. Jim and I didn't (double ahem) do so well living with my in-laws and, by September of 2007, we had moved rather hastily into a second-floor apartment in one of the town's large condominium developments. Charlie loved living in my in-laws' house with its three-car garage and an acre of yard but he adapted to the apartment which had its challenges as a living space (no visibility to the parking lot so if Charlie went out, we had to go out, and a downstairs neighbor who was not happy with the noise generated from our household).
We were hopeful that Charlie could stay in the central New Jersey town's program until he finished high school; finished his education. And since it seemed that we had found the right program, it made sense that we sell our house in other town and move permanently. We were advised to rent it.
Our house needed some repairs—holes in the walls, chipped paint, for a start—and there was a basement of old toys, files from Jim's research for four books, binders with years on years of home and school ABA programming. The house was a great place for my parents, on their long visits from California, to stay in. Charlie had learned to ride his bike in the neighborhoods and neighboring towns, whereas the other town, being in a more hilly area, was not so amenable to the biking adventures Jim and Charlie were more and more enamored of. And then the housing market crashed.
The house remained our house though we really doubted we'd ever live in it again and we planned eventually to get the repairs done. In the meantime, we had the rent to pay on top of our mortgage plus two sets of utility bills. Jim walked a mile and a half from the apartment to the train and I had another longish commute and, especially with Charlie growing, the house simply offered more space to stretch out and no downstairs neighbors to appease. We'd visit it after school and on weekends, always aware that our stays were temporary.
So long as Charlie did well, it was all worth it and we felt lucky that we could do this.
Then, the implosion of the school situation for Charlie in the central Jersey town. Helmets, restraints, major contention, and it became very clear, that town no longer had a program for Charlie in its public schools. He would be sent out-of district.
Jim and I realized, it was time for us to go, too. And boy did we feel lucky, we had a house—our house, our own piece of real estate—to live in.
So we're back. The details of Charlie's IEP were ironed out at the meeting in December; yesterday's meeting was mostly to go over things with his new case manager and to ask about issues like us getting reimbursed for driving Charlie to and from the Big Autism Center. We would eventually like him to ride the bus (you would not believe how many miles the white car has on it already!) but it happens that the BAC is about five minutes from where our apartment was, and just on the border of the town we've now left. Charlie has made many a trip between these towns over the past years—-we visited his grandparents every weekend for years–so he's made the ride and its various streets and landmarks overly familiar to him. Charlie has on occasion gotten very upset on this particular ride, and I'm not sure what might happen on a school bus traveling this territory. Maybe everything would be fine but the school bus would, of course, have other kids and one aide and driver on it, and we're not ready to hear about trouble on the bus for Charlie.
We might try him getting a bus ride home in the summer. In the meantime, Jim and I are so happy to be back in our house, we almost feel like we're on vacation. The fact that Charlie has been doing well at the BAC and, even more, liking it, makes me wonder, was our sojourn in the other town, and the stress and the expenses worth it? When this town did not have a program for Charlie, he could have gone not to the BAC (it wasn't built yet), but to another "branch" of it.
Then I remember. Even though we left the other town with all that contention, drama, frustation and, yes, anger, Charlie had two very good years there. He still talks about some of the aides. He was able to play (in his way) with the "typical" kids in the schools on a regular basis. He went on field trips, he learned to play some cello, he was happy. He had (his current teachers note) a lot of skills when he came to the BAC and they're building on those very nicely. It was public middle school that became too challenging for Charlie.
Tuesday morning I dropped him off crying at school. Our morning drive was thrown off when I realized I'd forgotten to put his bookbag in the car (four adults in one house can increase the likelihood of essentials getting overlooked) and we had to turn around to get it. I pulled up to the BAC late and a staff member told me she'd take Charlie, but via a different door than he usually enters the school in. He followed her and started crying and I waved somberly as another aide came to walk beside Charlie. His day turned out fine and he didn't object to me trying another route home, or to two walks. I suspect Charlie can sense the snowstorm that's going to hit central and northern and north central Jersey and elsewhere (most likely as you're reading this); he was humming and uttering streams of sound over and over. Fresh air and motion soothed him and Charlie took himself to bed by 7pm.
He has a snow day Wednesday and we're plotting how to keep up the peaceful easy-feelingness.
And what better place to do that than in your very own home, sweet home?