13 years old, 7th Grade
There was a time, not long ago, that I firmly believed I would never enroll my daughter in school
again. Sydney has autism, motor and visual-processing challenges, hypotonia and is not able to speak.
Having attended public school from preschool through fourth grade, she had advanced only
rudimentarily and even then, not consistently. I had therefore decided to remove her from school and
began teaching her myself at home. It was soon clear that Sydney was far more apt to learn, and
maintain what she'd learned, when taught at home by someone like me who knew her inside and out
(The Autism Perspective Magazine, December 2005, 'There's No Place Like Home')
For three years we worked with promising gains. However, enormous and life-altering progress was
made after we'd learned about Soma Mukhopadhyay and her Rapid Prompting Method, and even
more when Sydney began working with her once a week ('The Story of Sydney Edmond'
www.Aut2Communicate.com and www.AutismCoach.com). After learning that Sydney had far more
intelligence and ability that I had thought, I approached the school district to augment our home
teaching program and to allow Sydney to spend more time with other children. However, I was
disappointed to find that the district pushed to enroll Sydney into a standard Autism Class working on
the same tasks and using the same methods that proved unsuccessful in the past. We therefore
requested an Independent Assessment of Sydney's language capabilities and had her evaluated by
Darlene Hanson, M.A.-C.C.C. who is an alternative communications specialist (www.
DarleneHanson.com). She was immediately able to communicate with Sydney and determine that
Sydney was, at the very least, functioning at an age appropriate level. She then provided us with a
written report documenting Sydney's capabilities thereby supporting our request that Sydney be placed
in a school program that included opportunities for age appropriate academics. At this point, Sydney
was ready to begin 7th Grade and would be attending a Middle School campus.
We (along with Sydney) chose a classroom for the severely handicapped run by the Riverside County
Department of Education which had a well organized and creative program in place. When we met the
teacher, Cheryl Rodenhi, she was bright-eyed and eager to learn more about Sydney's
communication method. She had also instituted a Peer Buddy Program at the school for her classroom
which pulled general education 7th and 8th Grade students into her classroom each period (for which
they earn class credits) to socialize and work with her students. The connection and affection between
the children is a thing of beauty!
Within a month, Sydney had adjusted to the school regimen and she was making friends with her
classmates and Peer Buddies. She worked on age appropriate subject matter in the classroom using
her QWERTY-format Letterboard and an augmentative communication device with voice output. She
worked on History, Language Arts and Math, as well as continuing to practice her typing, handwriting
and socialization. During her breaks, a Peer Buddy would read from her favorite book, "A Little
Princess", as she rested and listened in an overstuffed chair.
After a couple of months, Cheryl asked Sydney to select a subject she would like to study in a general
education classroom. Sydney chose History (Social Studies). Prior to her first day, Cheryl made a
presentation about Sydney to the children in the History class and also showed them a segment from
the academy-awards nominated documentary, "Autism is a World" about Sue Rubin. Sue Rubin
herself has autism and little functional speech but graduated from high school after learning an
alternative communication method at the age of 13. (Sue now attends Whittier College in Whittier,
CA) Cheryl also read out loud to the students a poem that Sydney had written for the presentation:
And I will love you.
And I will not.
And I will blossom;
And I will rot.
I will do my best.
I will act joyful
Like a loving, loving friend.
I will learn among you,
But lack only the end.*
*by which she meant she knew not how things would work out.
The teacher and children in the Social Studies class welcomed Sydney and made her feel that she was
one of them. She responded by taking an enormous interest in them and in learning the subject.
Within a couple of weeks, Sydney was fully adjusted and completing the class work along with her
peers. Adaptations to the class work have been made for her such as allowing her more time to
complete assignments and adapting the work with requires either written or oral presentation so she is
able to demonstrate knowledge without using either of these requirements. She receives good scores
on assignments and tests she has completed, and has begun participating in classroom discussions, as
There are times when Sydney becomes so excited by the subject or the children that her body will
express the emotion by screaming. At these times, of course she is taken from the class to calm herself
and she is working diligently to find a less distracting means of letting off steam. In the meantime, the
children and teacher have learned to take these distractions in stride. In addition, Sydney's school day
is reduced to four hours as opposed to the regular six hour day; this allows her the time to complete her
homework and studying as well as projects and therapy she is working on at home.
Later Sydney chose to attend an general ed. Art Class. She has been going to classes for a few weeks
now and while she is unable to complete the exact work of her classmates, she does what she's able
and enjoys the class very much.
Darlene Hanson says, "I think students with disabilities need to be educated to think just like the
others. They need to learn to self advocate and direct their life for when they are older just like the
others. This is what education can offer, not just functional skills that many families work on
"The most important piece," continues Darlene, "is to have a team of people working to learn the
student and how he/she thinks, then support him/her to become the most independent person possible
. . . of course, remembering this isn't done overnight."
And indeed, the most challenging component of Sydney's success was that of maintaining a classroom
aide that was capable of supporting her in such a way that she continue to make the progress she had
demonstrated when I worked with her at home. Staff turnover can mean that your child loses valuable
time while the new aide receives training and develops a relationship with him/her.
Sydney didn't have an aide when she began attending school this term, so Cheryl, the classroom
teacher allowed me to volunteer as her aide until one could be hired. After a month, an aide was found
and I was allowed to train and shadow her until she developed a relationship and skill-level with
Sydney that I felt was moving forward. She also received training from Darlene Hanson. However,
the aide had a family crisis and retired leaving Sydney without a support person once again.
Therefore, I have remained a volunteer in the classroom performing as Sydney's aide in order that she
continue to make the progress she has been enjoying.
Sydney and I are very happy with her school experience thus far and pleased that she has been
given the opportunity to participate in general ed classrooms. Because Sydney started school in the
midst of the school year and has never attended a regular classroom, she is classified as a visitor in her
Social Studies and Art classes. Next year we plan on fully enrolling her in a couple classes so she can
One of Sydney's favorite things about school is to hear children call out, "Hi Sydney!" as she walks
by on campus. It's her dream to one day reply, "Hi!" in her own voice. It's only a matter of time.
Copyright March, 2006/Aut 2 Communicate