Robyn Barberry is the doting wife of her high school sweetheart, the mother of three precocious boys, and the art teacher at St. Joan of Arc school in Aberdeen.

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Thank you Robyn for so eloquently stating some of the obvious reasons this proposed ordinance makes no sense. I intend to be present at the council meeting on the 10th to publicly state my opposition.

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Your words are always so inspiring. I also spent 12 years in Catholic school and chose to give my children a Catholic school education. It is the best decision we have ever made!

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Unconditional

Catching up with Frank





It’s been almost two years since we learned that Frank has significant language and social developmental delays. But, we have chosen to delay slapping a label on him. Is he autistic? Does he have ADHD? Is it an auditory processing disorder? Maybe it’s one of those things. Maybe it’s all of those things. Maybe it’s none of those things.

What we do know is that Frank experiences the world differently than most three-year-olds. He’s shy. He’s quiet. He doesn’t always understand what we’re telling him or asking him. He seldom participates in group activities, choosing instead to play by himself, by his own rules. He can solve sixty-piece puzzles in mere minutes. He carries an apple everywhere he goes. He can't take big crowds, loud noises, and lighting that is too bright or too dark. He needs to be held in a human vice to fall asleep. He has a burning desire to explore and investigate everything. In fact, I call him “Curious Frank” after his favorite storybook character, Curious George.



The progress he’s made in two years with the help of a very special team of teachers and therapists is incredible. He makes more eye contact. He has hundreds of words (he can spell over thirty of them).



I made a video of him singing "Happy Birthday" to his godfather the other day. To my delight, he’s recently developed a love for painting and listening to stories. "Let's make art," is my favorite thing he says.


Most of the time, he asks for things rather than devising elaborate and dangerous plans to procure them himself. I’m not petrified of venturing out into public and having him run away from me anymore (though I can’t take my eyes off of him at the playground). He attends a wonderful Christian preschool with patient and kind teachers who adore and protect him. He has even made a few friends. He voluntarily goes to Mass, points at the risen Christ above our altar and says, “Jesus is everywhere.”

After much deliberation, Patrick and I decided to send Frank to St. Joan of Arc for preschool next year. Our four-year-old program is a rigorous five-day-a-week, all day experience, which is exactly what Frank needs to grow socially and academically. The Pre-K teacher and her assistant have created a nurturing, structured environment that will provide Frank with a safe, challenging, and exciting place to learn. I could not think of more capable hands to trust him with. (And I hear the art teacher/librarian is nice.)

Some days, I second guess myself. We enrolled Frank in a multi-sports program for preschoolers at our gym. When I took him to his first session on Tuesday, I watched for a couple of minutes to see what he would do. I used to think that I needed to include a preface every time I introduced Frank to someone new to explain why he doesn’t talk, listen, and behave like most three-year-olds, but I’ve decided to wait until someone needs to know about Frank’s differences.

A few minutes into the class, the dozen or so other kids were lined up and kicking their soccer balls toward the goal. Frank picked up his ball and ran around on the other side of the gym. When the teacher called after him and he didn’t respond, I interjected.

“Frank has some developmental delays, so he might not always understand you the first time,” I said.   

“Oh, then, I’ll just leave him alone and let him do what he wants,” she said.

Her response frustrated me. I put him in the class because I wanted him to learn some social skills. “All he needs is your patience,” I said. By the end of class, he was participating with the other kids. Sometimes, he just needs time to explore.



In a few weeks, Frank will visit SJA’s preschool to get to know his teachers, his classroom, his routine, and some friends who are headed to kindergarten. We will develop an Individualized Education Plan (or IEP) with his special education team so that he has the resources he needs to learn in his unique way. I can’t wait to watch him grow at SJA and will continue to pray every day that Frank can develop the social and communication skills he needs to make his dreams come true.  

 

March 13, 2016 04:28
By Robyn Barberry


If the preschool fits: Part 4


In searching for a school for our son Frank, who has developmental delays, we found it difficult to find a warm and safe place where he can play and learn. Here is Part 4 of the four-part series on our visits for the “preschool tour.”

Read Part 1 here.

Read Part 2 here.

Read Part 3 here.

Part 4: The third time’s a charm:

I shared my frustration with some friends about our two failed attempts at finding an appropriate preschool for my developmentally delayed son, Frank. One friend, whose daughter has similar issues to Frank, recommended a program at a church located at the epicenter of where everyone who cares for Frank lives. I pass by it pretty much every day, and the mom who recommended the school said every day is Open House, so I stopped in unannounced.

The kids were being dismissed by a firm, yet friendly teacher who used visual markers to tell the kids where to stop, line up, and wait for their parents. This is the kind of safety that Frank needs. The teacher introduced me to the director, who welcomed me into her office.

I explained my predicament, trying not to burst into tears.  

“It’s okay,” she said.  “I know where you’re coming from. I had a disabled son who passed away.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” I said.

“It’s okay. He’s with the Lord now,” she said. “Would you like to see the school?”

The bright hallways were lined with religious art the children had made. Some of them were still in the classrooms, playing dress-up, blocks, and receiving one-on-one attention from teachers who were working with them on writing letters. I was greeted with smiles from teachers and students alike everywhere I went. I felt God’s presence everywhere I turned.

“Can I bring Frank back tomorrow?” I asked. 

“Absolutely,” she said.

The next day, Frank, Leo, my parents (who were keeping the boys for the rest of the day), and I took a tour while all of the kids were there. Frank, who is extremely shy, hugged my dad’s legs at first, but within a few minutes, he was playing in the toy kitchen. The other preschoolers were interested in Frank. He even smiled at a few of them.  

While I walked around the room, I found locks and alarms on the doors to the outside. There was nothing dangerous in sight. Only an abundance of toys, art supplies, and even a piano.

Frank ran into my friend’s little girl, who he plays with twice a week at t-ball. They were excited to see each other. It’s good to know that they will be classmates on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays in the fall.

I had a gradual sense that this was the right place for Frank when I first walked in the door and saw the kids waiting patiently for their parents, eager to reveal the details of their day. I ran into a few people I know, and the coincidences and connections were astonishing. When I met the woman who will be Frank’s teacher, I told her that in addition to being sweet, curious, and super smart, he’s developmentally delayed and a bit of a handful.  

She said, “This is the perfect place for him.”

And I agreed.


June 08, 2015 11:50
By Robyn Barberry


If the preschool fits: Part 3


In searching for a school for our son Frank, who has developmental delays, we found it difficult to find a warm and safe place where he can play and learn.  Here is the story of one of our visits on the “preschool tour.”


Read Part 1 here.

Read Part 2 here.


A week after a disappointing visit to a church preschool, Frank and I visited another preschool (not church affiliated) for their open house. From the very beginning, the program director pushed the hard sell.

“Which program are you interested in? When is his birthday? Did you know that we offer daycare?” were the first questions she asked. (I don’t think she ever even asked our names.)

She escorted us into a classroom where two teachers were dancing with the class. Frank wasn’t interested and began investigating the toys in the classroom. His back was turned to us, and the lady said, “Frank, let’s go take a look at our beautiful playground.” He was sorting through a tool set, arranging everything neatly. She repeated herself, frustrated. I grabbed Frank, who kicked and screamed his way outside until he saw a basketball court.

“What do you think of this school, Frank? Do you want to come here?” she said.  But, he was off.

“He has a receptive language delay,” I explained, “So, sometimes he has trouble understanding us.”

Suddenly, the dollar signs over our heads waned.  

“Excuse me,” she said, abandoning me for another family. I let Frank play basketball for a few minutes, expecting her to come back. She didn’t, so I rounded up Frank once more, kicking and screaming even harder this time, and told her we were leaving.

She handed me a glossy packet full of photographs that looked staged.

“Thanks for coming by!” she said with the enthusiasm of a worn-out flight attendant.

I was defeated. Maybe Frank wasn’t ready for school. Maybe school wasn’t ready for Frank. Like any parent, I want what’s best for my child. Like any parent of a child with special needs, our “best” is hard to find. Sometimes we feel unwanted. I decided a long time ago that if I’m not wanted somewhere to move on, but where?


Part 4 of this four-part series will go online on June 9.


June 08, 2015 11:09
By Robyn Barberry


If the preschool fits: Part 2


Our preschool search...

Part 2: First Impressions

In searching for a school for our son Frank, who has developmental delays, we found it difficult to find a warm and safe place where he can play and learn.  Here is the story of one of our visits on the “preschool tour.”

When I visited my first choice preschool for Frank, my three-year-old son with developmental delays, I was feeling anxious.  He needed so much more attention and patience than most kids his age.  Frank needed a teacher who modeled Jesus’ gentle way with children.  

With that in mind, I thought that a church school would offer the support Frank needed.  (Unfortunately, it’s not St. Joan of Arc, Aberdeen where I worship, work, and send Collin to school.  We’re still working on getting a 3-year-old program.  I’ll let you know when we do!) I rang the doorbell to a highly recommended church preschool and was greeted by a kind grandmotherly-type who warmly greeted Frank, Leo, and me.  But, in the classroom behind her, I heard a woman screaming at the 3-year-olds about a picture she was trying to take.

I wanted to turn around and walk out, but the older lady was so kind and excited to show us around.  I tried to be open-minded, but I had visions of Frank bursting into tears because his teacher couldn’t control her emotions enough to utilize a gentler form of discipline (which he certainly needs).  Everyone has bad days and every teacher has to raise his or her voice sometimes, but there is never an excuse for screaming in the way that she did.

When we visited the HUGE classroom, Leo and I played, participated in circle time, sang, and danced while Frank explored on his own.  Eventually we moved to a smaller room where the lady and I could talk quietly, and Frank could be less distracting to the other boys and girls.

“He’s much better than I was expecting,” she said, referring to our initial conversation several months ago about Frank’s situation and whether or not they could accommodate him.

“He’s come a long way,” I told her, “But he still has some catching up to do.”

“I can tell he thinks a little differently than most kids his age.  He’s like a little engineer or something.”

I laughed.  She understood him.  This might be a good place for him, after all.

“Unfortunately, I’m retiring this year and (the teacher who was yelling) is taking over.  I’ve been here for over thirty years, and I’m hoping she keeps things going the way we have.”

I began to imagine this wonderful program my friends experienced sinking under the watch of someone who lacked the poise and patience that it takes to work with young children, especially one as challenging as mine…who was climbing over the gate and headed for the front door.

“Frank! Come back!” I shouted, but in customary Frank form, he didn’t listen, or hear me, or understand.  I chased after him and held him tight.  Maybe he had the right idea.

I told the kind woman I’d be in touch.  But, I even then knew I’d be offering my regrets.


June 03, 2015 11:30
By Robyn Barberry