Texas Mom Wants to Choose the Right School for Her Autistic Sons

Texas Mom Wants to Choose the Right School for Her Autistic Sons

Fact: parents lose sleep over their kids.

And not just because they cry when they are infants. Parents worry about whether their children are growing and developing appropriately. They toss and turn at night thinking about what the future will bring for their kids.

As parents of three children, two of whom have Autism Spectrum Disorder, this is especially true for my husband and me. Our oldest, Kaia, is nine years old and in the third grade. Gabriel and Gatlin, my seven-year-old twin boys, are in first grade. Both our sons were diagnosed with nonverbal autism just before their third birthday.

Britt Family Photo

Sarah and Matthew Britt with their three children, Gabriel, Kaia and Gatlin.

The biggest challenge we have encountered is the level of unpredictability and complexity that comes with their disorder. Tomorrow is never certain, and the ability to adapt and be flexible to address unique needs is critical. This is especially true in the classroom, where my sons spend the most time. And this is why having the choice to find a school that has the flexibility to adapt to our children’s unique needs is so important. The Texas Senate recently passed legislation, SB 4, which will help address that by creating a scholarship program for low-income and special needs students to attend eligible private schools.

All three of our children attend public schools in Fate, Texas. Before we moved to Texas in 2011, we lived in Broadview Heights, Ohio, where Gabriel and Gatlin attended an inclusive school geared for children with special needs. The school had a full day program and offered a variety of therapies, including speech therapy, hippotherapy and occupational therapy.

When the time came to move to Texas, we were nervous about the transition, as finding the right fit can be daunting. In our first meeting at the school, we encountered the first roadblock. The teacher incorrectly told us that state law would only allow our sons to attend school for half the day due to their young age. Needless to say, this made us extremely worried that the progress they had made would be stifled. Fortunately, the school agreed to allow our boys to attend for the full day for the next school year. But after two years, the program they were in ended and we had to change schools again.

Now our boys are in their second year at their new school. Due to high enrollment this year, the school merged the special needs classes into one, with 17 special needs students. This was quite the change from the previous year, when they had six to nine kids in each class. Thankfully, they realized this was not a recipe for success and eventually hired a second teacher for a new class.

Many who oppose school choice assume that its supporters want to undermine public education. But that is not the case. We are simply parents who want to be able to offer our children the best education possible to meet their needs.

To date, our family has been blessed with dedicated, loving teachers who do their very best to help our kids succeed. Our concern is that their very best is limited to what the regulatory framework of the public school system allows. Public schools, with a few exceptions, have served my children well. But my sons need a flexible, adaptive learning environment that can be tailored to their unique needs. Given the unpredictability and uniqueness of my sons’ disorder, my family may one day need to choose another school.

My husband and I constantly worry about what tomorrow will bring. If and when their school can no longer serve their needs, will they be stuck? Our sons are bright and capable students, and we want them to be able to attend the schools that will help them reach their true potential. Isn’t that what every parent wants for their child?

I urge the Texas House to follow the Senate’s lead on SB 4, so that families like ours can have the freedom of choice. Students of all abilities deserve the opportunity to learn and grow, and they should not be bound to a school simply because of where they live.

Sarah Britt and her husband Matthew live in Fate, Texas, with their three children, Kaia, age 9, and Gabriel and Gatlin, age 7.