No Asperger’s policy?

“Whoever touches the life of the child touches the most sensitive point of a whole which has roots in the most distant past and climbs toward the infinite future.” –Maria Montessori

My eldest, Paddy

One year ago, I had called The Montessori High School at University Circle late in the week, and Felicia and I were driving to Rochester, New York for a wedding that weekend. While on the road, MHS called me back. I quickly began explaining the circumstances: my son, Paddy, would enter 8th grade in the fall. He had been a Montessori kid all his life, but was just finishing seventh grade in a conventional school, since our school didn’t have a junior high at that time (we now do, and Paddy is finishing his eighth grade year). I had recently discovered that someone in my area was sending her daughter to the Montessori High School (in Cleveland), so I thought I’d check it out. Never had I imagined I would send a child away to boarding school, but this seemed worth exploring.

So on the Ohio Turnpike, on my cell phone, I had my first glimpse at the culture of this school. I quickly told the person at the other end that my son has Asperger’s, a form of autism. “Do you have a policy regarding accepting Asperger’s children?” I asked. “Mr. Driscoll, this is a Montessori school,” was the response. In other words, “Our policy is to take each child in front of us and see what we can accomplish together.” I had wanted to be as honest and up front as possible, because I didn’t want to waste anyone’s time if they weren’t equipped for Asperger’s. His response continued: “Let’s see, Paddy’s entering eighth grade? So that would put him here in Fall 2010, we have a part time person here who works with us on issues like this, and he’ll be full time by then, so yes, I think we’ll be ready for Paddy.”

The message was clear. Paddy mattered. And Paddy didn’t have to be told to conform to the needs of the institution, but the institution was working to be worthy of Paddy. What a message.

Donna Goertz, author of Children Who Are Not Yet Peaceful: Preventing Exclusion in the Early Elementary Classroom writes about the value of including children who are struggling, or different, in our classrooms not only so that the struggling child can be successful, but so that the other children can thrive as well. Her book is a type of guidebook our faculty relies on. Our focus on community in our classrooms is essential to the learning that goes on. We teach compassion by practicing it. We recognize the giftedness of each child, and we highlight those gifts and make them known so others can rely on them. My son can define pretty much any English word for you in a way that is clear, concise, and easier to understand than the Dictionary explanation. But he doesn’t always know how to interact in social situations. His classmates have always recognized that and have shown him appreciation because of it. They understand his quirkiness and social difficulties, and they appreciate his intellect. If there were a no-difficult-or-complicated-child policy, then not only would Paddy have missed out on an incredible education, but his classmates would have also.

Yes, it gets hard sometimes, and the classroom is not always as quiet as we’d like it to be. But everyone is learning, everyone is practicing, and some of the interactions might be teaching things that can only be learned in a struggle.

I really liked the answer I was given when I was afraid my son would be too challenging for the high school: “Mr. Driscoll, this is a Montessori school.” In fact, I not only liked the answer, I have committed myself and my career to it, and I believe that answer can change the way we do education in this country.

Explore posts in the same categories: elementary education, Montessori Method


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One Comment on “No Asperger’s policy?”

  1. shannon Says:

    I love the blog, Dan. So glad my kiddos have found a niche at GSMS!

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