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A Young Mom Struggles to Find a Preschool for her Autistic Son

New America Media, Commentary, Janet L. Posted: Dec 17, 2009

Editors Note: A young mother struggles to find a preschool that meets both the needs of her autistic son and his non-autistic brother. Janet L., 20, is an associate editor with The Beat Within, a weekly magazine of writing from inside California's juvenile halls. She chose not to publish her full name in order to protect her childrens privacy. This is the first in a series of stories from young people sharing their experiences on preschool issues.


Finding a preschool for my two sons has probably been the most trying experience of my life so far! You would think with them being so close in age it would be easy (J is 3 and D is 1), but it hasnt been. Finding a preschool to meet the needs of my eldest son, who is autistic, but also available to my younger boy, who isnt, has been a major challenge. Ideally, Id like them to start preschool when they are 2 and 4, so we need to find a school with open spots for next year. We also need to find a school that is between Oakland and Concord, where my ex and I each live, near a BART station (I dont have a car), within our price range, and with teachers we can each trust and agree on.

When my eldest was diagnosed with a mild form of autism (technically, referred to as PPD-NOS, or Pervasive Developmental Disorder - Not Otherwise Specified) my biggest concern was that his father and I might not be able to afford the tuition for his special development classes, while also paying for my other sons preschool.

Insurance will cover some of the costs for Js classes, which helps somewhat, but after adding the costs of Ds schooling, were shelling out about $10,000 a year, which is a damn lot for our incomes. And all this for preschool?!?

My ex works in sales, on commission, but he usually makes $1400-$1600 a month after taxes. I make roughly $800 a month after taxes. With our salaries, we also have to cover two rents, since we live separately, and I pay $30 a week in BART tickets alone, to get to and from work.

Its disappointing, because I always thought Id be more prepared when I had children, but Im not. I didnt think Id end up like my parents, deciding whats more important, education or bills, bills or everything else. I wish I didnt have to make these decisions.

When my kids dad and I started sitting in on preschool classes, I found it highly amusing that the main concern for the teachers and specialists, etc. was my age (Im 20. I was 17 when I had my first son and 19 when I had my second). Sometimes, theyd divert the conversation from school curriculum to my personal situation. Theyd ask sohow old were you again when you had your sons? or say this is what happens when you arent ready.

When I heard that comment, I waited until we were leaving and my ex was buckling J and D in their car seats to tell the high functioning dumb-ass that no one, regardless of age, is ever prepared to deal with autism. It pisses me off because I try my hardest to stay focused on J and D and the people who are supposed to be teaching them are shrooming on their ignorance. But, I laughed about it afterwards because they have degrees and Im a high-school dropout.

I want my sons to go to a school where I get treated like other parents. Like a person, not a statistic tainting their space. But my main concern is that Js teachers are competent, so they can help him have a normal life.

My ex and I finally did find a school where we feel confident about the quality of teachers for J and one that we can afford. We are now waiting to see whether or not the preschool we want to send D to will be able to cut the costs of enrollment. (At this point, we cant find one school for both of them.)
D has taken some tests to see if he even qualifies to get in. That also determines how much we pay. Thankfully, his program wont be full time like Js, only mornings, so thatll also help with costs.

J is finally set, thankfully. Its just hard trying to decide what we need to pay for now and what can wait. Its still up in the air with D too. As badly as I want both to go to preschool, I dont know if I can afford sending D when he turns 2 or 3.

I didnt attend preschool and I was reading myself to sleep at 4 (ha ha!), but even then, I think itll be good for J and D. I want them to be around other kids and learn how to share, read, and develop friendships. My younger cousins all went to preschool and now they excel in their classes. When I started elementary school, I wasnt comfortable around the kids or teachers. I didnt have play dates as I was growing up, that kind of stuff didnt happen in my family.

As much as my parents wanted me to blend in with the American kids, they also isolated me within our family, and other close Filipino friends. I want my kids to have friends. I dont want to scare them and throw them into school without being prepared like me. I didnt know how to react when I started school. Everything was unfamiliar and scary. I didnt hang around kids that werent family (not even kids in my neighborhood) so I felt shut off from all the other kids.

Js doctors couldnt have stressed enough how important it is to enroll him in some type of program or preschool and I didnt really need them to tell me that. Ive been trying and doing as much as I can ever since I suspected J had autism. The sad s**t is the fact that some of the organizations take months, sometimes years, before they give you any help, and unfortunately for J, he wasnt born to a millionaire, so buying our way in isnt exactly an option.

If J's preschool doesn't help him, thenI dont know. Im scared at how much that could set him back. Will he ever learn to talk, really talk? Will he interact with other kids? Will he ever get to be independent? I want him to experience life as fully as he can, and Im putting a lot of hope into this school to teach him what Ive been trying to, but cant.

For D, I want him to have the same opportunities as my autistic son. I dont ever want him to feel like J has gotten more from his parents.

Related Articles:

Asian Grandparents Volunteering at Preschools

Pre-school Helps Close the Learning Gap

Recession Turns Homes into Classrooms


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