Tags: Staff Editorial
May 19, 2015 | 02:23 PMYou hear horror stories about schoolyard bullies.
This isn’t one of those stories. In fact, you might call this an anti-bullying story.
It’s a lesson in the right way to mainstream an autistic child and how that child can teach his classmates as much as they teach him.
The boy is Jackson Schaid, a first grader at Traver School.
The story was inspired by a letter Jackson’s mother wrote the Regional News.
“Jackson’s autism has brought out kindness, caring and acceptance from all of these students, he is teaching them and they are teaching him,” wrote Wendy Schaid.
The players in this real life drama are Wendy, her husband Mike, Jackson and Jackson’s brother Oliver, who is in 5K at Traver. The family moved from Hebron two years ago to attend Lakeland School, a school that specializes in teaching special needs children.
But after two years it was the Lakeland staff that thought Traver might be a better option.
“I was against this initially but the Lakeland teachers explained to me that Jackson would not get the socialization skills at Lakeland since many of his classmates were non-verbal,” Wendy wrote. “Jackson does speak. He can communicate but has a hard time holding a conversation and expressing himself.”
Wendy was understandably concerned about Jackson switching schools once again. Autistic children have a hard time adjusting to change.
“Autistic children are often targets for being bullied,” Wendy said. “He has a lot of quirks. He jumps, he repeats a lot of what he hears or will breakout with something from a movie…or credits from PBS.”
This was a test for the school, too.
For starters, Wendy provided Jackson’s teacher Sally Tower with reading material on autism. It also doesn’t hurt that Tower’s class has only 10 students, which makes it easier to accommodate a child with special needs.
The results have been stunning.
“Jackson’s classmates have taken it upon themselves to help him in school in so many ways,” Wendy said.
The entire school has embraced Jackson. Maintenance workers, children in different grades, teachers, even the school bus driver.
At first Jackson didn’t want to ride the bus to school. The bus driver affixed different pictures to Jackson’s seat with Velcro. That gave Jackson a reason to board the bus.
Other kids in the school have taken it upon themselves to help out as well. A group of fourth grade boys help get Jackson back in from recess to school, on days when he doesn’t want to come inside.
“They were not asked to do this. They just did it,” Schaid said.
During the interview for this story, two older students rode up to Schaid’s house on their bikes.
“Is Jackson home?” one of them asked.
Pretty soon Jackson made a mad dash toward them. A flurry of high fives and laughter followed.
“He’s like a little brother,” Wendy said, “they’re protective and it’s really heartwarming.”
Jackson still has trouble with crowds and larger classes; gym, art and music classes are hard for him.
As a result, the Schaids rarely go to public places.
“But at the Linn Fire Department Easter Egg Hunt about 20 kids went out of their way to say hello, give a high five, or a hug to Jackson as he sat off from the group of kids waiting for the hunt to start,” Wendy said.
Jackson was 2 before his autism was properly diagnosed. It started when it was evident that Jackson didn’t pay attention to another baby after Oliver was born.
“We thought he was deaf,” Wendy said.
Having another child created its own challenges.
“It’s challenging to balance his (Jackson’s) needs and Oliver’s,” she said.
“It’s a little crazy,” Wendy said summing up her life.
A visit to Jackson’s classroom
Jackson works with a special ed teacher three days a week, a speech therapist and occupational therapist, but spends most of his time with Tower. He does much of his learning on his iPad, which is equipped with many educational aps.
Tower explained how she prepped the students before Jackson’s arrival.
“I explained to them that his brain works differently than ours, that he has a hard time speaking in sentences and that he knows a lot,” she said.
His classmates feel the same way.
“He’s a pretty good speller,” one student said.
“He’s kind and nice and he lets us play with his toys when he brings his toys to school,” said another.
“He’s really good at soccer…and math.”
“He’s very good at hide and go seek.”
“He’s really good at listening.”
“He is nice and kind … and silly.”
Tower summed it up when she told her class, “He learned a lot from you guys about being a good friend. He’s taught us how everyone is different we’re all human beings and we’re equally important.”
Halverson is general manager of the Regional News.