The state of New Jersey has one of the highest autism
prevalence rates in the United States, and yet I continue to feel as if there
are limited resources for my three year old when it comes to childcare – nay I
say inadequate and non-compassionate staff in the childcare field.
I looked forward to the first day of school for both of my
children. After a long summer of fun, rest, and relaxation, I missed the days where my children would sit in a classroom and engage in social interaction and non-stop learning. I have always been happy with their teachers and the ways in which they keep my eldest and youngest on track with behavior and their perspective educational progression. With my decision to go back into the workforce, I – like most parents –
felt trepidation. However my trepidation was not centered on my children’s current school, but who would I find to continue to encourage, develop, and push them to their fullest potential just as their parents have.
At first my husband and I were set on hiring a nanny because
we felt that the nanny would provide stability and maintain a routine that is
necessary for my youngest son. And although we hired someone a month prior to school starting – the nanny was unreliable, leaving my husband and I to find secondary sources for before and after school care.
I think the hardest thing for a parent with a child struggling with autism is finding a center or daycare provider that is not only willing to understand and cope with the child, but who also wants to incorporate the child into the setting without making them feel any less of a person. My husband and I finally felt comfortable placing our children in their current school’s before and after school programs. My eldest son being “normal” has yet to receive a complaint (and I have to remind him daily just how much he has blossomed and how proud I am of his accomplishments). On my youngest son’s first day (and even during registration) at his afterschool program, my husband received a laundry list of things he had done wrong and he was informed that they were keeping a record of just how “bad” and unfit he is for the program. He attends the a.m. program at his school and has not received a complaint. The morning staff knows him, his teacher, and overall they are aware of all the special
needs preschoolers. They allow Jonah to be himself and know that he will soon get used to the routine.
I am puzzled and saddened by the staff that runs the afterschool program where my youngest son attends, as well as the lack of support and childcare resources for the autism community in Jersey City. Their demeanor and body language reflect the
attitude that my son is not “normal” and therefore not wanted. Their attitude and the feedback I’ve received from other childcare centers that are filled with “normal” kids make me feel as if I a shirt needs to be created that states: “I have autism. Please give me a chance. Be Patient. I can be “normal” too.”
There is a lot of work that needs to be done and I look forward to keeping you posted on my journey to integrate and find a welcoming place for my son – a place where he can be accepted for who he is and a place that will foster his development.