The school district where we live, and where The Boy has attended school since his first day of kindergarten is known in our region of the state as having a very strong Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) program. It was why we moved so that The Boy could attend school on schedule, with his same-age peers. From the start, he has been with an ASD teacher, certified with a master’s degree, and wonderful speech and occupational therapists, social workers and parapros. As I have said before, we don’t always agree on every little detail, but I have been very, VERY lucky to not have to fight to get what The Boy needs because they already know.
One of the programs that blew me away was called “Grub Club”. The ASD students got to choose a friend from their general ed classrooms, take a small area-transportation bus, and go out to lunch every other week on a field trip. This allowed the ASD student to practice social skills in a real-life setting, with neuro-typical (NT) peers, and they also gained real-life skills that included ordering from a menu, and paying a bill. And they chose different NT peers each time. Their NT peers were probably motivated by the novelty of getting to leave school and go out to lunch, but ended up learning much more about their ASD peers, and developing strong empathy and leadership skills, as well as solid relationships with the ASD kids themselves. This program (along with the Extended School Year program in the summer) is what my son lived for. The restaurant location used by the Club became the subject of intense focus for The Boy (an obsession), and remains that way to this day, I think because he was so happy there, in the program, with his buddies and his favorite teacher – just plain good associations, feelings and memories attached to the place. He even insisted on the off-weeks, that he and I have our own Grub Club, heading to that same restaurant for dinner.
The Boy found out this past week that they will not be continuing this program, although they will have a similar program called LINKS, where ASD students will get to eat pizza for lunch with their peers in a club-type format within the school. He is taking it pretty hard, and I have to say I am disappointed for him. But here’s the thing: NT participation in the new LINKS program is voluntary (as it was with Grub Club), and The Boy’s teacher just shared with me that the number of NT kids who signed up for LINKS is 57. 57!!!! The proof is right there that Grub Club went a long way toward building the kind of relationships within that school that foster empathy and support for my kid, and all kids who are a little different. And those NT kids have learned a lot about people with autism, hopefully to grow up to be educated citizens who are still compassionate, and who also do their civic duty and vote. So while we’re disappointed that Grub Club has come to an end, I applaud the genius behind it, the hard work of the teachers and specialists, and the kids themselves, for showing that the best programs continue to have impact even after they are gone.