From our Parents
“CCDE and Oakstone are to children with autism what a seeing-eye dog is to a blind child. The school teaches them independence, confidence and hope for the future.”
“Oakstone has given my son a fully inclusive and loving educational environment that was not available through our public school district. Our family is very grateful for this opportunity where he has learned how to talk, how to play and how to socialize with others while getting a top notch quality education.”
“How many parents have a teenager that wants to go to school? Our son loves Oakstone because he feels the thrill of growth and success. At last, knowledge and understanding is coming to him in a way he can grasp and build on. And, he is learning in an environment where he feels both physically and emotionally secure, where his failures are teachable moments, not points of shame. Oakstone has given our son the doorway into the rest of his life.”
“Besides the fantastic teaching staff and the quality individualized attention my children get, my girls’ experience at Oakstone provides them with an opportunity to learn that we all have our strengths and weaknesses. They’ve learned tolerance and acceptance that they will carry throughout their lives.”
“At some schools, your child can get lost in the shuffle. But not at Oakstone. Since the classes are so small, the teachers really have time for each child. I’m also happy with the curriculum and how my children have learned to be caring, helpful individuals.”
“My daughter is a typical peer student that began Oakstone in preschool and has been there for three years. I send her to Oakstone because she has a lot to offer children that have autism. She is a bright, loving, outgoing, non-judgmental child that does not see a handicap in the students at school. To Ariana, all kids are friends to be made. As she grows into a young lady, I believe the experience of going to Oakstone will follow her. She will be able to see beyond a persons handicap and see the friend that lives within.
Oakstone Academy has also been beneficial to her academic achievement. She has an opportunity to attend a school that offers an all day academic program. The child/teacher ratio is non-comparable to a public school. She has had at least three teachers every year in her classroom, at one time. Being able to have my child in a class with a low child/teacher ratio offers more one-on-one experiences. I believe if I did put Ariana in a public school, she would be bored.
Going to Oakstone has been beneficial in both academic and social achievement She has learned to be a helping hand to those that need her, while obtaining a wonderful education.”
“My husband and I are proud parents of 3 Oakstone students!
We joined the ranks of the Oakstone family in October 2002. Like many other Oakstone families, we were looking for a school for a specific child. We were desperate for a school outside of the public school system. Our oldest child needed a school where he felt safe - a place where he would be accepted in spite of his issues - with teachers and administrators who were concerned about his well-being and knew how to help him deal with his anxieties.
Let me share the experience we had during the next 6 weeks that caused me to enroll our other children at Oakstone:
The first few days were rough, of course. Then he started coming through the door saying “that was the best day of my life.” That became his afternoon mantra. Suddenly, I had lots of free time on my hands. I wasn’t running back and forth from his school – talking to the nurse, the counselor, the principal, taking him home during a ‘bad’ day, or running to emergency pysch appointments! His teachers were sending home a daily communication log… most of it was praise for my son. It seemed unreal. What was going on at that school? And if they were helping my son this much, what could I do to help them?
I became a volunteer at Oakstone a few weeks after I enrolled my son. I watched, listened and learned. I was amazed! What I saw then, I still see today - the typical peer connection, social interactions between all the kids that had been missing or discouraged at the public school. The teachers work with each child through the issue at hand. I have also been struck by the passion Oakstone teachers have for their students and for education. Walking past a classroom, one can always hear a teacher enthusiastically encouraging students. The student’s response is wonderful to watch! They all encourage each other – the peers & the ASP kids befriend each other, older kids befriend the younger ones, differences are celebrated, respect is the watchword.
I had to let my other kids experience the wonder that was Oakstone! As I volunteered in their public school classrooms, I saw that they were not getting their social or academic needs met in that atmosphere. I wanted them to have encouraging, enthusiastic teachers. I wanted them to learn empathy and appropriate social skills. Academically, reading was becoming a big problem for my typical son and my daughter’s work was too easy. They were being allowed to get by without any real help for him or challenges for her… and where Oakstone had heart and dreams, I saw none of those at their public school.
We enrolled the 2 youngest in Oakstone by February of 2003. The 3rd grader is now a 7th grader at the Oakstone M/HS. He is thriving!! His schedule includes Art, Science, Math, Reading, Language Arts, Gym, History & Spanish. This past grade card was full of A’s and B’s. His reading has greatly improved and he now reads for pleasure both in and out of the classroom. He is very sports-oriented and participates in the yearly Oakstone Dodgeball Tournament fundraiser. This child was so excited when he discovered that the M/HS had hired coaches to establish a sports department. My son played on the Dodgeball team this fall, is looking forward to starting basketball in the next few weeks and participating in other sports during the other seasons. He also just came back from the annual 7th grade field trip to Washington, D.C. While in D.C., the group saw the Washington Monument, Mt. Vernon, the White House, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a 3-store MacDonald’s (now THAT’s impressive).
My daughter, who started at Oakstone as a 1st grader, is now a 5th grader. She has had straight A’s throughout her Oakstone career. Her favorite subjects are math and science. She’s excited to participate in her 2nd Science Fair this year. This child has consistently read above grade level for the past 3 years. Right now she is reading at an 8th grade level. She reads 2-3 books a week – sometimes 2 at a time! She is currently writing a story of her own. She also excels in math and is about ½ a year above grade level. Her teachers are so supportive of her desire to learn. They encourage her to explore the upper grade work and reward her work with praise and more work! She loves to do schoolwork. Her only complaints come when she is given work that she thinks is too easy! At the beginning of this year her teachers passed out spelling lists – not knowing well, yet, and she was mad because she already knew the words on the list – she figured that since she knew how to spell words like “meteorologist” she should have a more difficult list! Her class schedule includes Language Arts, Reading Group, Spanish, Science, Social Studies & Math. She is also in Band, and all of my kids have participated in the annual, bilingual, Oakstone Holiday & Spring Concerts. In addition, Oakstone philosophy has helped this child work through typical social arguments and issues. I am glad that I found a school that is able to challenge my bright daughter. I am impressed by how well the teachers are able to balance her need for more advanced work and their need to follow the core requirements of 5th grade.
And the one who started us on the path to Oakstone, my oldest, is now a high schooler at Oakstone M/HS. He is amazing! He has his driver’s permit and is a more cautious, serious driver than some adults. He has a job and belongs to a youth group! This child even willingly attends field trips! His last grade card was full of A’s and B’s…. no accomodations besides a little extra time allowed for some tests. His class schedule includes Algebra II, Digital Photography, Gym, Science, Self-Determination, History and Language Arts. He has a lot of technical smarts and ability and he often gets called to other classrooms to help fix computers or answer questions about how something works. By now, most of the staff have known him for almost 5 years. I constantly hear what a good job he is doing and how wonderful he is. At home, we have seen his growing self-confidence, his desire & willingness to learn about new things. He’s learning how to cook, do laundry and keep a home clean. He is now willing to leave the house and go to movies or out to dinner, or even just the grocery store. Socially, he now has friends both at school and at home. He listens to loud music, growls at his siblings and sleeps until noon on the weekends… it is so cool that he is able to act and feel like a typical teen!”
A Letter from Preschool Parents:
Dear Dr. Morrison:
In a time when people are perhaps more likely to complain about lack of great service or manner of delivery whenever they encounter it and less likely to take the time to heap praise on those who do yeoman’s work, Jeff and I hope that you will enjoy receiving this letter and share it with your excellent staff and those who might be considering Oakstone Academy.
The thing that most appealed to us and our instincts as parents about Oakstone’s approach to education of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder is its belief that one should have the same expectations of success that one has with any child and that the society of other typically developing children is a way to produce similar results. We considered -and in fact were about to begin- a recommended in-home ABA program prior to getting a spot at Oakstone. This program would have required Mitchell to be up from morning until night at least six days a week in one-on-one sessions in our home learning (we felt) how to parrot typically developing children rather than in a natural learning environment that allowed him to make choices. While we know that the in-home program may be effective for some children, we were very concerned about Mitchell developing social skills appropriate for his age, how our family and marriage would function with little time to ourselves and how we would provide adequate attention to Mitchell’s little sister, Elyse. Oakstone has done more for us than provide Mitchell with an excellent education that addresses his special needs, it has allowed us to have evenings and weekends together as a family and to balance the schedules of our children to allow time for both. Not to mention that it is, by far, the more economical of the two approaches.
Now that Mitchell has been at Oakstone Academy’s preschool for more than a year, we have had ample time to witness countless ways that your methods and staff have impacted his outcomes and our family life for the better. For example, Mitchell has participated in the S.T.A.R. (Social Training and Response) class offered at the school. We have noticed during play time with other children at parks, in malls and local attractions and most recently during a hospital stay that not only will Mitchell participate in conversations and play opportunities, but he will seek to initiate them. Just this week, Mitchell saw two older children sitting at a table playing with toys. Rather than shying away from the children and playing with a toy by himself, we witnessed a behavior that might be ordinary in another child, but was nothing less than astonishing in ours. “Excuse me,” he said, “may I play with you?” The children answered affirmatively and he pulled up a chair to join in. Although we knew we were supposed to be paying attention to a hospital tour guide at the time, we were transfixed. He did this several times with different children. We looked at one another with astonishment and no little amount of pride. We know that he was taking a concept he had learned at school and applying it to a real-life situation.
In addition to interacting with other children in cooperative play, Mitchell has begun to use his creativity in pretend play and often involves his sister and other children. Laundry bins in our home have become train cars where he is the engineer while his sister sits as the conductor in the “caboose.” Sometimes Mitchell and Mommy hide under the darkness of a blanket in “outer space” and look at the “stars” (light coming in from the small holes.) Mitchell has been the ring leader in a parade of cousins shouting “follow me” and likes to play dress-up as pirate Captain Mitchell. (“Arghh!”) Halloween trick-or-treating was a stressful event in the past. With the help of a picture schedule and practice at school, the event has transformed from a stressful and scary time to a fun romp with friends. We are certain that without the encouragement of the teachers and the example of other children at Oakstone, Mitchell would not have made this kind of progress.
When Mitchell started at school, he was not potty trained and we despaired of ever completing that toddler right-of-passage. We had tried numerous methods of convincing Mitchell to use the potty: different seats, videos, books, rewards and all of the usual tools that parents employ to transition from diapers, but to no avail. As Mitchell is a big kid, we worried about our diapering options after he outgrew available sizes. After 18 months and many frustrating episodes (and worse!) we felt that we were no longer able to be positive influences on the process. Oakstone staff members Jessica and Emily came to our rescue! After a very successful meeting with Mitchell in our home and a reward process using picture images he was familiar with from school, potty training was no longer a problem. We cannot begin to tell you what Oakstone’s assistance has meant to us. That simple act improved our lives as parents. We were no longer frustrated with Mitchell and with ourselves. We had success to build on and could focus our efforts to raise Mitchell elsewhere.
Sean, Lorie and Molly have been instrumental in addressing Mitchell’s speech, occupational and behavioral issues. Mitchell was given to screaming tantrums, hitting and biting when we first arrived at the school. Under Molly’s tutelage his language skills have exploded and he is now able to express his feelings and modulate his behaviors. Mitchell will now tell us how he feels when he does not like something or when he is sad rather than scream or hit. He expresses himself in complete sentences and his vocabulary has grown in proportion to his intervention. His problems with correct use of personal pronouns and other parts of speech are coming in line as well. Lorie has been working with Mitchell to refine his gross and fine motor skills. We have been so pleased with his progress with multiple-step instructions and his tripod grasp. Mitchell regularly brings home handwriting samples where he has successfully completed each exercise without hand-over-hand assistance. Sean had been a guiding force in ensuring that Mitchell’s behavior at home stays in line with his good behavior at school. His home program, including the use of the “Sad Spot” has ensured consistency in the message about good behavior and has changed the focus of dealing with Mitchell’s bad outbursts from just punishment to an opportunity for Mitchell to learn to get control of his own behavior. Of equal importance, it has also been good for us to examine how consistent we are when situations arise. If we begin to notice regression with Mitchell’s behavior, we first examine and modify our approach to be more consistent if needed.
These are a few of many examples, big and small, that we could share about ways that Oakstone Academy is exceeding our expectations as a school. Long-gone are the days when we despaired of making progress and of what might happen to Mitchell in the future. While those worries are still there, as they are for any parent, our hopes for him are vindicated by the concentrated efforts at Oakstone. We know he is there because of his special need, but we no longer think of him first as someone with a special need. Autism is something about him, but it is not the only thing about him. That has been such a gift.
When students matriculate at Oakstone Academy, parents are rightly asked to provide volunteer hours and services to reduce costs and encourage community. Rather than a duty, it has been our privilege to be involved, most notably with the preschool PTO. Anything we can do that contributes to the work being done inside the walls of the school and for the wonderful staff cannot be enough to repay the progress we have gained for our son. Our daughter recently began attending as a peer model for the other children and loves it. She does not know that is her role, she just loves the learning environment, teachers, friends and fun she finds there. We have met and are developing lasting friendships with other families touched by autism and it has contributed to the overall feeling of well-being and normalcy our family now enjoys.
While some who are not familiar with the good work your school does might read such a long letter and question such liberal use of praise, please know that it reflects the excitement we feel at our son’s progress and at the opportunity to express it. While we owe a debt of gratitude to all of the staff, we would be remiss if we did not specifically mention Sean, Jessica, Molly, Lorie, Emily, Kathy, Becca, Sandra, Kylie and Diane as part of the Honor Roll that has brought Mitchell such great success. Please accept our gratitude, Dr. Morrison, for your involvement with our son and for the school you have founded.
– Jeff & Amy