In the fall of 2018, Patrick had the highest reading score of all his high school classmates. To say his mom was proud was an understatement, especially considering the struggled path they had taken to get him where he is today.
When Patrick first began school, he attended a rural private school. Early on, it was obvious that he would need additional support and accommodations at school. Patrick was extremely intelligent and creative; however, his body was in constant motion and his mind raced which made it difficult to concentrate and participate in class. His mother, Lisa, took him to a borage of doctors and specialists, but doctors were hesitant to make a formal diagnosis of ADHD or autism.
When Lisa moved Patrick to a public school well-known for disability and special education accommodations, they couldn’t access accommodations to help him in school without the formal diagnosis. Patrick was overwhelmed and unable to control his emotions or behavior. He struggled through his first few years in school. Lisa fielded constant calls from teachers and administrators. The decision was eventually made that Patrick would have to finish out second grade at the district’s alternative school. As with most alternative schools, this location was designed more as a disciplinary institution and less for special needs students.
Lisa quickly began looking for private school alternatives for her son. Again and again, he was accepted and released from schools in the area. The longest stint was a couple years before Lisa was told that Patrick’s autism and severe ADHD were too much for them to handle. In their pediatrician’s office, Lisa’s spirit broke, “What do I do?” she pleaded. That’s when she learned about the CARES School at Canopy Children’s Solutions.
When Lisa first visited the CARES School, she felt at ease. She was able to observe children whose behavior was very similar to Patrick’s. They all seemed happy and the teachers were working closely with the students showing grace and patience. When a child had a meltdown, as is normal for children on the spectrum, they were trained to help him find calm. The teachers and administrators were patient to answer her questions. When she brought Patrick, he was eager to stay. He spent nearly four years at the CARES School.
“It was different from everywhere else I went,” said Patrick. “I was able to learn and make friends who were like me and understood me. I never felt judged. I still talk to several of my friends I made. We go to the movies sometimes.”
Patrick was part of a small classroom dedicated to youth on the spectrum. In addition to a specialized teacher and several assistants, Patrick also had a therapist. He appreciated having someone he could talk to. She was easy to connect with and helped him learn to cope with his frustrations and anxiety. He learned it was okay to ask for a “time out” when he started to feel overwhelmed. Pacing for a few moments in the hall allowed him to recollect and return to class.
“We believe that every student can be a success story!” said Maureen Long, principal for the CARES School Jackson.
“Patrick came to us struggling to meet the challenges of school. Changes in daily routines, coping with different expectations from teacher to teacher, and learning to navigate social interactions with peers was more than Patrick could handle without the assistance of our teacher and staff members. We had the pleasure of watching him take small steps to reach the goal of having him transition back to his home school. We were and are still so proud of him and his accomplishments.”
At the end of Patrick’s 8th grade year, CARES School staff told Lisa they felt Patrick had achieved a level of success that would allow him to return to his local public school. Members of the district administration attended his quarterly Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meeting with the CARES School and were pleased to hear he would be starting his high school career in the district and on grade level. While this thought frightened both Lisa and Patrick, they trusted the CARES School staff. Several meetings took place between the district staff, teachers and the CARES School to ensure Patrick’s transition was seamless. Recommendations for reasonable accommodations were presented on Patrick’s behalf and he continued to work with the CARES School throughout the summer to help prepare him for his first day.
It has been three years since Patrick started high school. Today, he’s a regular kid with an incredible story of overcoming adversity. He attends general education classes and has a network of friends. He loves his teachers and especially loves the library. When Patrick feels overwhelmed, he has multiple avenues that allow him to “talk it out” or participate in an activity that helps him calm down. He, like many boys his age, loves Minecraft. Patrick collaborates with a group of online friends from across the globe on a digital novel called The Freedom Fighters, complete with character illustrations and their own backstories giving his creativity an outlet to thrive. He has his driver’s permit and attends classes at a local community college for video game design. Patrick is starting to look at colleges and mentors other kids who struggle.
“I am so proud of the progress he has made,” said Lisa. “It was difficult navigating where to turn next but I am so glad that we found the CARES School. They gave him the skills and confidence he needed to succeed.”
“I want people to know it is okay to seek help,” said Patrick. “There’s going to be someone you can relate to, someone who can help you if you keep asking and keep looking. You are never as alone as you think.”
Patrick is one of many success stories that has arisen from the CARES School since it was established in the early 1990s. Focusing on students’ strengths and helping them to achieve their person goals instills confidence and sets them on a path to flourish.
“News of Patrick’s outstanding progress reaffirms the difference we are making in the kids and families we serve,” said Maureen. “Hearing of his continued success brings us joy!”