Dear Principal Lindorff – I am sure you often hear praise for your staff. The arduous work that goes into helping a disabled child needs patience, love, and a kind person. Since April 2017 when Ethan enrolled in the ECLC Ho-Ho-Kus School, the teachers we have interacted with have been all those characteristics & so much more.
We truly feel blessed and grateful every day that Ethan is at ECLC.
My in-laws decided in August to take everyone to Disney. My knee-jerk reaction was “No, Ethan has autism, we cannot do Disney, the plane, the parks, and all that is involved.” On a good day, I have anxiety about keeping Ethan safe, so the thought of us being in the park during Christmas week with 70,000 other people wasn’t happening. Then, I spoke with School Psychologist James Wagner, and he changed my perspective.
Early fall, he told me a trip was possible, and he encouraged me to talk with other parents who had traveled with a disabled child. He told me to “prepare,” so I had tools and resources in place to help Ethan. At a support group, I learned how to put together a story board, and Psychologist Wagner showed me how to do it for the airport and plane. I also received feedback and guidance from other parents that had success, and some families that did not have success, which proved to be invaluable in planning for the trip.
Behaviorist Matthew Kuzdral also met with me and walked me through the visual story board and provided tips on things I could do to minimize airport problems, such as putting Ethan in a wheelchair, which symbolizes a disability, because a stroller does not. Thankfully, we followed the advice and reserved a wheelchair at both Newark and Orlando airports, which was a necessity in keeping Ethan safe, giving Ethan a sense of security, mitigating tantrums, and most important, not having to worry about Ethan eloping, which can happen in a second.
Mr. Kevin Carney, Ethan’s head classroom teacher, also gave me advice, which we implemented and utilized, such as the starboard. Ethan happily earned stars toward a reward he wanted, which helped keep him on task and minimize park tantrums. Ice cream seemed to be a reward he was willing to work for! The ESY program Mr.Carney had in summer where the children pretended to take a trip in an airplane helped because Ethan had been exposed to travel for a whole week. I was able to take out some of the papers and projects he did in summer and use those to help Ethan with his fear of an airplane.
We spent months preparing from the guidance we received, and on Sunday, December 24, when the plane took off my husband and I felt a sigh of relief that “Ethan did it.” But it wasn’t just Ethan, it was your staff that provided the advice and tools we needed, so Ethan was able to successfully go through an airport routine, and get on an airplane. Mrs. Brandy Springer, ECLC’s occupational therapist, also had coached me on some of the tools I could utilize to minimize sound and Ethan being enrolled in her Listening Program the past three months has helped with his auditory challenges, coordination, sensory stimms and even his communication.
At the advice of your team, we had the noise canceling headphones, which Ethan needed not just on the plane but in Disney parks and on some rides. We booked a disability stroller all week, had visual aids and storyboards, booked the wheelchairs, called the airline and Disney at the advice of your staff and prepared everything we needed to keep Ethan safe that week in the parks, pool, and at the hotel. From a bolt being installed on our room door, so Ethan couldn’t elope out, to getting the Disability Access Services (DAS) pass at Disney, it all made for a wonderful first vacation, that almost wasn’t.
Your staff is consistently supportive, but the best gift they gave us was confidence. Confidence that we could take a vacation as a family, despite our son having autism. Mr. Carney is always encouraging me to give Ethan more bandwidth and not let the autism hinder or paralyze us. He has made us see that Ethan is capable of so much, with the right tools. We had a week of “normal” because we were prepared, even for tantrums. Did Ethan have challenges related to his autism disability? Of course. One significant problem was noise, and a different routine. The storyboards of what was next were so helpful. I was prepared to handle those challenges because your staff had guided and coached us!
One thing we crave and rarely have is “normal.” We have adapted over time to our new normal, but some days when autism is flashing in neon lights and taking over Ethan’s brain, we crave normal. I am so proud of how hard Ethan worked through many challenges, and we saw the results of the school’s work all week in Disney. I love using Mr. Carney’s question when Ethan’s go-to behavior is negative, “Ethan what is a better choice?” It works, getting Ethan to stop and think and coaching him on better behavior options.
I hope the attached photos will remind your educators that their work, their guidance to families, their care, makes all the difference. Thanks to them, we had a memorable vacation as a family with Ethan’s grandparents, aunt, cousins, and a week of normal in one of the happiest places on earth … Disney World!
With such gratitude,