Applause rang through the auditorium as Dylan accepted his diploma. Friends, family and staff gathered to witness this tremendous milestone. Graduation at REED Academy, a private school located in Oakland, NJ serving individuals with autism from diagnosis to age 21, is different from other schools. This amazing accomplishment means that a student is ready to transition into a public school setting. Dylan has worked tirelessly to master skills in order to reach his full potential.
Dylan’s mother Pam describes his challenges, how he overcame them and the impact made on his life by REED’s teachers and staff in her heartwarming speech below.
Good afternoon everyone. I am overwhelmed with happiness and gratitude to see all of you. Our gathering here today is a tremendous victory, because it is not a given that when a child enters REED Academy, that he or she will graduate to what is a called a “less restrictive educational environment.” Today is a testament to the 20,000 hours of 1:1 therapy that Dylan has received in the past decade. Most of which has been here, within this building.
Day in and day out, Dylan’s abilities have expanded, slowly, but ever surely, guided by REED’s data-driven approach and powered by Dylan’s hard work. Dylan has few idle moments and has never known a life without a constant stream of dedicated teachers and therapists, even after school and on the weekends. He is constantly expected-not just asked–to push himself beyond his comfort zone and adapt.
Ever since I attended one of the first graduation ceremonies at REED in 2008, I have imagined what it would be like to stand here today and for my beloved Dylan to be “transition ready.” REED is more than a school, it is a refuge–a haven from a world where every quality treatment for your child is hard to find and hard to fund.
Dylan has a wonderful sense of humor that is very endearing. One of Dylan’s favorite things is to hear incorrect statements. Even when he was really young, he loved to joke with his therapists by saying “The sheep says moo.”
Many of you also know that Dylan loves a certain Howard Johnson in Saugerties, NY. A few months ago, we were driving my stepson Theo to college and my husband Aaron, who loves to make Dylan laugh by telling him incorrect statements, started saying wrong things about the Howard Johnson. It doesn’t have a pool. There are no hand dryers and so forth. Dylan laughed for a little bit but as Aaron kept going, Dylan all of a sudden stopped and said, “That’s not funny Aaron.” We burst out laughing because we were so happy that Dylan came up with that on his own. But we shouldn’t have been surprised, because at REED, Dylan gained this magical ability-something that we take for granted in ourselves and in our typical children. It is the ability to learn a skill without having to be explicitly taught.
This is very different than before. When Dylan first began intensive intervention, he had to be taught every new skill, no matter how small. One of the first things he learned before he entered REED was how to shake his head yes and how to shake his head no. Most two year olds pick this up without any intervention. No one needs to teach them to shake their head yes for ice cream and no for vegetables.
What REED strives for is to help every child reach their potential. And as parents, that’s all we want. We want our kids with autism to have something that is usually a given with our other children–the opportunity to reach their potential, so that they can be the best and happiest that they can be.
We don’t know what the future holds for Dylan, but the intensive education that he’s received here, is the strongest foundation any autism parent could hope for. So thank you REED, for 9 years of weekly home visits, endless emails, phone calls and training sessions. Thank you to the teachers and the parents here in the REED Community. I will not forget the years that we have spent together, mostly fundraising-through good times and bad. Every parent here works hard for their children and we have achieved something for them that every child with autism deserves.
Giving to REED Foundation for Autism supports programs at REED Academy, as well as helping to build our new REED Next adult program. Help us help give the gift of meaningful employment by donating to the REED Foundation for Autism today.