At the start of the year, I asked the faculty to consider writing a blog to share among my rants. I’ve received a number of thoughtfully written pieces and look forward to more. Today’s guest blogger is Terry Walsh, a long-time Hyde faculty member who mentored me when I first arrived. I believe he speaks for many of the faculty who raise their children among Hyde’s students.–John Rigney
I began working at a small New England boarding school fresh out of college, but never intended to make a career of teaching. During my third year of teaching I was married and by the end of my fifth year my we decided to raise a family within this community. Like most special needs families our first child brought nothing but excitement. Our daughter Casey was the first child and was surrounded by 240 babysitters and role models. Liam came into the world like most children, but during that first year we noticed he was not hitting the typical milestones. We began to worry that something was not right and we were referred to a neurologist for further consultation.
The neurologist at Connecticut Children Medical Center confirmed Liam’s pediatrician’s fears that something was not right. The neurologist was unable to give an exact diagnosis. He was concerned by the slow progress and many different possibilities were presented such as Fragile X Syndrome, but continued tests ruled out the typical suspicions. Liam began to get services through Connecticut’s Birth to Three program and he began to make strides, but still lagged far behind other children his own age. One quality that most people immediately acknowledged was Liam’s ability to demonstrate affection and engage with the people around. This quality would also be a hindrance in later determining his true condition.
Since birth, Liam had been immersed in the community. He was forced to deal with the students at Hyde School through eating meals in the school dining hall and traveling around campus. The students were always friendly and willing to play with him and watch out for him. Although he was clearly different from the other children on campus, the students and staff were able to move beyond his quirks. As Liam was about to turn three he was transitioned out of the Birth-To-Three Program and into the local public school; more focus was placed on finding a diagnosis. Just before his sixth birthday the school psychologist at the Woodstock Elementary School determined that Liam had Autism. I was not surprised that this was his situation, but did not know what to think. We asked the school psychologist why autism was not determined earlier. The school staff and his neurologist immediately dismissed autism as a condition due to his sociability. His delayed diagnosis must have been caused by the forced social interaction in the school’s small community. Several of his doctors including his neurologist felt that he was not autistic due to his happy demeanor and his openness. Although it has been frustrating to finally get people to recognize his condition beyond a few typical characteristics, I also realize how much further along in his own development he is due to this environment.
Raising a child in a boarding school is unlike any other environment. The students are eager to find a home away from home and the school’s faculty has always been encouraged to open their doors to these students. A symbiotic relationship has emerged as each student offers something to a faculty family and each family is willing to give a place for the student to call home. Each year Liam has gained a new crop of babysitters and role models that has allowed us some respite time. These students are clearly committed to helping him develop and grow. A few years ago several of the senior girls from my hockey team decided to take up a collection to help raise money for Camp Quinebaug which is Liam’s special needs program during the summer. These students have served as chasers when he has “bolted” away from us and heading toward dangerous situations. They have been the voice of reason when a streak of obstinacy enters his head. These students have begun to understand the world of Special Needs and several have gone off to college to pursue careers in Special Needs. I cannot imagine Liam’s life without these valuable people continually challenging him in a loving manner. I would recommend such a life to anyone considering a career in teaching and aspiring to raise a family in a caring community. This is especially true for any family needing extra help raising their Special Needs child.
— Terry Walsh