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July 19, 2010

We arrived at the farm mid morning on Friday. What a great place! Our first day was spent discovering the different animals — the cows, horses, sheep, rams, goats…but most importantly the chickens. A loved the chicken coop. Love may actually be an understatement. A became OBSESSED with the chicken coop! He repeatedly checked the little boxes for eggs. Occasionally he was rewarded with one and it was saved for the next day’s breakfast. Lots of swimming, bingo and eating too.

A and I were up at 5:30 am with the roosters- time to check  for more eggs. None. But there was a cow on the loose! A took charge and kept the cow in sight while he sent me to find help. He loved the excitement of the farm!  Our “real” purpose of being in NH, however, was to visit the school. I spent the morning wondering how on earth we were going to get A into the car. We prepped everyone- “First we are going to milk the cow and goat, then make friendship bracelets and swim. After that it’s lunchtime and then we are getting into the car to go visit the school.” Lunch came and went and we announced it was time to load up. Amazingly, A got into the car with limited issues (he had to check from eggs first, but that was it.)

We took the short drive and as we drive up the driveway I am unsure what to say or do. I blurt out, “I didn’t notice the climbing wall before.” We had just watched the HBO documentary on Temple Grandin- she attended Hampshire Country School when it was a coed school. A thinks I meant I didn’t see it in the movie. “Its the 21st century mom, some things have changed.” We did tell him David and I had visited a few weeks ago, but the movie is in the forefront of his mind. He told me it was an amazing movie- that he was very similar to Temple in many ways.

When Bill greets us at the main house, he immediately introduces himself to A and tell him he has seen A’s website ( “One question though. The picture of you with a black wrinkled dog- what breed is that?” I breathe a sigh of relief and A is off on a tangent about sharpeis and other dog breeds. Bill knows his stuff.

We all go into a large comfortable room with tables, chairs, books and board games. “I bet you would love this game A,” Hannah points to a spy boardgame. “Or this one- it’s a farm one!” Ben and I play bookstore while Bill and A discuss the options of what to do during the visit. I am amazed at how every book I pick up would be a book A would love. There is a book on Indian sign language, books on specific animal species,history books- everything right up A’s alley.

A and Bill are involved in a discussion about Temple Grandin. A can’t believe that Bill has met her. He gets to hear how she designed her squeeze box at Hampshire Country School and what some of the changes in the movie were. A hangs on every word.

We are taken on a tour of the grounds- the goats, the rock climbing wall. Then the chickens. They have chickens here! A is very excited and quickly uses his new skills to gather 12 eggs, which we now have to keep fresh and transport safely home.  Most of our time is spent at he school’s lake. We are warned that while there are some fish, it’s often tough to reel one in. They havent met A. Over the course of the afternoon, he catches 7 or 8- a large mouth bass- bigger than anything ever caught there before!

One of  the dorm parents is at the lake with her 8 year old son. They live in one of the dorms and her son attends public school. He comes back to Hampshire Country School in the afternoon and does all the activities with the other boys. The woman tells me how she is known for all the hugs she gives and how she gets up in the middle of the night to settle a middle of the night waker back to sleep. I really like her.

B gets to canoe. H swims, A fishes. Even our dog is with us and having a great time.  Bill and I steal away to talk about how to approach A and let him know that he will be attending in September. “Tell him we are very impressed and are confident he will do well here. Tell him you and D need a few days to ‘research’ and make sure you agree. Then let him know you re sending in his registration paperwork.” I tell Bill I am worried that A has a whole summer to be anxious over this. He tells me it is better to have “manageable” anxiety knowing he will be going, rather than anxiety because he doesn’t know if he is or isn’t. Makes sense.

Bill tells us we should wrap things up, end them on a positive note and let A want to come back for more. As we leave A asks if he was accepted. I proudly say “yes! They were very impressed by you!” A grins ear to ear! “WOW! I was one of 20 boys picked out of the whole world!” He hesitates and then says, “But, I’m not going.” I smile and tell him D and I need to research it more to makes ure this is where he will do well. A asks what kind of research I will do- I tell him I plan to call parents of boys who are students at Hampshire Country. A tells me he wants to hear what Temple Grandin thinks about the school.

We spend one more day at the farm and then head back home. There isn’t much talk about the school, except for the occasional, “Am I going?” TO which I reply that D and I need to make sure he will do well there and we will know in a few days.  A mentions to someone that he visited a boarding school. I interrupt and let them know that A was one of only 5 boys this year selected to attend and it is incredible that he qualified. A tells me he thinks he wants to go.

I sent an email to Temple Grandin with a little about A and how much he enjoyed her movie and identifies with her so much. I tell her that A wants her opinion on Hampshire Country School. I hit send and wonder if she will ever even see the email. I immediately get a reply from her secretary that Temple is out of town until Wednesday but she will email A then and also send him a card! She tells me that Temple loves to correspond with kids like A. I feel giddy!

D and I are 100% sold on this. Even if A becomes horribly upset I feel ike I will soldier on. This is what is going to make all the difference in the world.


Cat’s out of the bag

July 15, 2010

We are leaving tomorrow for a long weekend getaway with the kids– to a “farm resort,” where you stay on the farm and help with milking the cows, collecting eggs, etc. The kids are really excited. Tonight we told A that on Saturday we will also be stopping in to visit a boarding school that is near there. (This is actually the purpose of the trip, but we wanted to take the focus off of the school visit.) His first reaction was to tell me that he wasn’t going to visit it and he isn’t going to boarding school. I told him, as per the school’s director, that visiting doesn’t mean he will be going there. He seemed ok with that at first, but started talking more about it and wanted to know what the chances are of him going there in September, etc. And adamantly telling me he was not going to boarding school.

I am trying to down play it and tell him we don’t know much about the school and will all find out more on Saturday, and that we would never send him unless it was a fabulous place. I am hoping to get him to visit without much of a struggle.

A few weeks ago David and I took a drive to New Hampshire to visit two schools- The Hunter School and Hampshire Country School. We ruled out Hunter, as the students seemed lower functioning, and the administration didn’t seem to have a solid position on much. “Maybe you can skype with him- we never did it but I don’t see why you can’t.” “We are thinking of starting a horseback riding program.” “We have a points system now, but maybe that will change.”

A two hour drive to the Massachusetts/New Hampshire border brought us to Hampshire Country School (  I prepared myself to rule out this school too, but instead, we were greeted by six of the most enthusiastic, energetic happy 10 and 11 year old boys I had ever met! We were brought into their classroom where they all jumped up and started talking at once when D and I entered. They wanted to show us a Mad Lib they had been working on. I expected the teacher to reprimand them for standing up, talking out of turn, etc. Instead, she gave a big smile and joined in on their excitement. D and I looked at each other and we both knew this was it. A would fit right in.

We spent a long time speaking with the director, Bill Dickerman, about the school and about A. We were so happy to hear that a Hebrew tutor could be arranged, and that there were other boys also studying for their Bar Mitzvahs- and some even have them at school! Bill told us more about the school’s philosophy –if A were to rage and break things and tear Bill’s office apart, they would work through it. If A tried to sneak cigarettes into school, he would be on the next bus home. “We set the bar high here. At a typical special needs school the bar is very low and the students reach it. At a typical college prep program the bar is very high and students are expected to meet those demands. Here we have high expectations, but we know the boys won’t always reach them.” “A will probably always be a difficult kid. He will always have slow processing. But here he will flourish. He will be recognized for all his strengths.”

There is no therapy. There is a full school day where traditional subjects are taught in non-traditional ways. They are structured but flexible, taking the time to adjust for lack of attention or someone going off on a tangent about their special interest. After school the boys play on the rural 1500 acre campus- there is canoeing, farm animals, strategy games and FISHING. Lots and lots of fishing. We are told that what goes on after school is at least important as the school day.

The school accepts middle school boys who have a higher than average IQ who, for reasons related to ADHD, NVLD and Asperger’s, are unable to be successful in a traditional classroom setting. Abe’s psychiatric history is typical of  the boys as well.

There is no medication. I was initially scared, but realize that the stability we have gained was from the structure of therapeutic environments like Meridell- not necessarily the medication. In fact, all the meds have had such negative side effects, I now look forward to the day that A will be med free- for the first time in almost 4 years.

I have spoken to a few other moms:

“This was our last resort. I wish it would have been our first.”

“My son has FAR exceeded our expectations in just one year.”

I heard the story of one boy who has a history, like A, of school refusal. One day the boy decided he wasn’t going to go to school while at Hampshire. First he spent about an hour in the dorm. Then the headmaster came in and invited him to have breakfast. After breakfast the teacher and the boy’s classmates came to the dorm and declared, “If you aren’t coming to school, then school is coming to you!” And the lessons were taught in the boy’s room until recess. After recess the boy forgot he wasn’t going to school and returned to the classroom! This is what we dream of for A.

We have had to contain our enthusiasm for a few weeks. We didn’t want A to know about it until we were leaving for the visit. Now he knows. On the one hand I am so excited for him –this is an opportunity of a lifetime. On the other, my heart breaks for him. He is only 10. He wants his mommy and daddy every night. It feels like a fast way to grow up. Bill has reassured us that Abe’s dorm parents will read to him at night and will comfort him when he is sad. He also told me that A’s attachment to me is actually a great sign that he will soon LOVE his new school and become very attached to people there.

The car is packed and we leave at 5am…

A New Beginning

July 7, 2010

Twelve days ago A and I made the trip to North Carolina- we left at 4:30 am from Newark Airport. It was  familiar f flying alone with him. But the feelings were different. I wasn’t worried about how to keep him safe on the plane ride, I wasn’t worried about how he would react to me leaving him in an unfamiliar hospital. This trip was different. It was exciting anticipation. We talked about what the trip would be like- what it would be like to take care of a llama, to trek through the wilderness, to go rafting down a river. At one point A snuggled up against me and told me he would miss me. “I’ll miss you to. I can’t wait to hear all about the trip when you get back! Just twelve days!”

We rented a car to drive from the Ashville NC airport to base camp. Enroute, we made a stop at Target to replace the sunglasses he fiddled with on the plane and popped out a lens. A must have been having similar thoughts to me on this trip. “Mom, have you written in the blog lately? I mean, have you finished it yet?” I told him I hadn’t but really needed to. “Well, you should write. And you should tell everyone I am okay now.” Wow. He was okay.

The trip to Target was a little unnerving as he tried every pair on, dismissing each as too big, too small, too tight or too loose. He was on edge, but held himself together. Finally he picked a pair. We paid for it and approached the exit door and he cried “They don’t fit either!” So we returned them and started over. A eventually found a pair- the same exact pair we just returned, but I didn’t tell him that- and I rushed us out the door before he could discover something wrong with this pair too.

We had an exciting car ride on the Great Smokey Mountain Highway and then what seemed like off roading for a few miles to base camp. We were greeted by smiley 20-something year olds so happy to see us. We had an in-brief session discussing A’s goals for the trip, his meds and an overview of the experience. Then we had a tour. We met a boy in A’s group (only 4 kids in a group and 3 counselors!) Interestingly, A really hit it off with this boy, who was a little too friendly, spoke a little too much and was very active. Peas in a pod. After our brief tour the counselor asked A how he was feeling about saying goodbye to me. With a slight wave of A’s hand I was dismissed.

We received two letters while A was trekking:

“Dear Mom, I miss you so much I cry for you everyday. Love A”

“Dear Mom, When I get home I don’t want to go to sleepaway camp. I will tell you why when I see you. Love A”

We had a few phone calls from staff letting us know A was doing great- a few days of really bad homesickness and then he was terrific.

A and D are on the plane flying home now. I’ve heard from them throughout the day and can’t wait to see A’s face and hear all about the trip. He says he has a best friend (the first boy we met there.) Asked if he could do the Florida trip next year. And told me he can’t go to sleepaway camp because as much as he loved his experience, he just missed home too much.

So the plans for the rest of the summer are up in the air. Friday A and D leave for a weekend fly fishing program. The following weekend we all go to New Hampshire to a “farm resort.” While we are there we will be telling A the plans for September. D and I will decide then about sleepaway camp.

Our boy is okay now. He told me to tell you.