About four-and-a-half years ago we bought our home in Germantown. (We had previously been living in Gaithersburg.) While we were searching, we knew we needed to be a reasonable commuting distance to my husband's office but I really wanted to be sure we stayed in Maryland. And, given that, I really was trying to make sure we stayed in Montgomery County. We already had three children and the reputation for the schools in this area is one of the best around.
Staying in Montgomery County wasn't easy. Home prices are very high around here and the farther away from Washington, D.C. we went, the more we would be able to get for our money. But we found a place that we really liked, successfully put in an offer and moved in once all the pieces were in place.
And we are very happy here. At the time, Ballerina and Music Man were about 7 months old. Autism was the farthest thing from our minds. We had no idea what was in store. And we lived in that ignorant bliss for 19 months in this house.
But then we learned the truth. Then we started receiving services. And, given what I was finding on the Internet (specifically through Facebook), I realized how lucky we were. It was felt Ballerina needed ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) to help her learn to manage her behaviors and to help her develop language skills. And soon after that decision was reached, she started receiving one-on-one services through a great organization contracted by Montgomery County Public Schools. We (directly) didn't pay a cent for her to receive those services. Other people in other areas of the country can spend thousands of dollars to get what we receive here that is paid by our (albeit very high) taxes. After that, I swore I would never complain about our county taxes again (and I keep that promise).
You see, in most places, people don't seem to realize how individual each case of autism really is. My husband and I have always refered to our twins as "Total opposites, except for when they are exactly the same." They are both autistic. But that's where that similarity ends. They have always responded to different things and the autism has presented differently in each of them. They are individuals. And, to date, they have always needed different programs to help them maximize their potential.
You see, Montgomery County Public Schools services more than 1,500 students with autism (based on data presented in March, 2011 at a one-night confrerence I attended that was presented by The Partnership for Extraordinary Minds). This number is based on the numbers of Individualized Education Plans—or IEPs—with the diagnostic code of autism. This number is likely higher as not all students with autism use this code, and other students with autism are not considered eligible to receive an IEP given their performance in school. Montgomery County understands that not all 1,500 students have the same difficulties, at least as far as we've experienced this journey.
In addition to offering several programs at the preschool level, MCPS also has a lot to offer elementary schools. My husband and I were able to visit the two programs that are felt to be the best options for our kids. And there are at least two other programs available for children with autism in this area (that we've been made aware of). We are now challenged (with the help of our children's teams) to decide the most appropriate program to meet their needs.
I am so grateful that we have this opportunity to make such a choice. Without it, my very bright children may not be able to receive an education and may not be permitted to live up to their full potential. That would be a tragedy.