I began working at a small New England boarding school fresh out of college, but never intended to make a career of teaching. 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 give an exact diagnosis. 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 a boarding 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. Just before his sixth birthday the school psychologist determined that Liam had Autism. As his parent this answer was not a shock as my wife and I had suspected he may have this condition. We asked the school psychologist why autism was not determined earlier. The school staff immediately dismissed autism as a condition due to his sociability. His delayed diagnosis must have been caused by the forced social-interaction by 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. In our case, 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. Students 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 Special Needs. I cannot imagine Liam’s life without these valuable people continually challenging him in a loving manner.