Dear Family and Friends,
In April 2004, after years of trying to determine why our son Kenny didn’t have any friends or quite “fit in” with others in his age group, he was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome. What is Asperger Syndrome? Here’s one description, from www.aspergersyndrome.org:
Individuals with Asperger Syndrome can exhibit a variety of characteristics and the disorder can range from mild to severe. Persons with AS show marked deficiencies in social skills, have difficulties with transitions or changes and prefer sameness. They often have obsessive routines and may be preoccupied with a particular subject of interest. They have a great deal of difficulty reading nonverbal cues (body language) and very often the individual with AS has difficulty determining proper body space. Often overly sensitive to sounds, tastes, smells, and sights, the person with AS may prefer soft clothing, certain foods, and be bothered by sounds or lights no one else seems to hear or see. It's important to remember that the person with AS perceives the world very differently. Therefore, many behaviors that seem odd or unusual are due to those neurological differences and not the result of intentional rudeness or bad behavior, and most certainly not the result of "improper parenting".
By definition, those with AS have a normal IQ and many individuals (although not all), exhibit exceptional skill or talent in a specific area. Because of their high degree of functionality and their naiveté, those with AS are often viewed as eccentric or odd and can easily become victims of teasing and bullying. While language development seems, on the surface, normal, individuals with AS often have deficits in pragmatics and prosody. Vocabularies may be extraordinarily rich and some children sound like "little professors." However, persons with AS can be extremely literal and have difficulty using language in a social context.
Every AS individual is unique and manifests different aspects of the disorder. I’ve underlined some of the areas in the description above where AS manifests itself in Kenny.
Near the end of his 7th grade school year (May 2004), years of bullying contributed to severe depression with suicidal tendencies, so we had to pull him from public school and the medical professionals made it clear he could not return to a public school setting. Fortunately, we were able to find a tiny private school that specializes in children like him. The Lionheart School in Alpharetta provided an environment where Kenny could learn in a monitored, non-threatening atmosphere and every social issue could become a learning opportunity. If an individual cannot learn to function socially in the world, all the academics they are capable of learning would not be much help to them.
Kenny did great during his 8th grade at Lionheart and, thankfully, is no longer suicidal. He now has his first-ever friends and there have been notable changes, but Kenny still has much to learn and implement. We had planned to return him to Lionheart for 2005-2006. However, the middle and high school age program at Lionheart split off and started a new school this year called “The Community School.” ( www.TheCommunitySchool.net ) The good news is the entire staff that Kenny was with last year will be at the new school. The bad news is starting a new school is an expensive proposition! In addition to the $18,500 tuition we pay (same as last year but extra gas money to drive another 10 miles further each day!), each family is being asked to bring in another $5,000 in fundraising.
After nearly a year in the planning stages, The Community School began classes in August 2005, in Decatur, Georgia. The school will have up to 10 adolescent students with learning and social-emotional development challenges. It uses the wonderful facilities at the First Baptist Church of Decatur (with a gym, a weight room, a ball field, a playground, lots of classroom space, walking access to downtown Decatur, and a welcoming community). The cost of educating each student is about $30,000; the school charges tuition of $18,500, meaning that the school needs to raise over $100,000 this first year. To date, they have raised about half of that.
Can you help us in supporting Kenny’s school? There are two ways you can help:
Getting Kenny out of the public school environment and into schools like Lionheart and The Community School with teachers who love, understand, counsel and teach at his level has been a Godsend to us and to him. Our hope is that he can someday return to a traditional school environment, but at this point he is not ready (based on social interactions we see in Scouts, church youth programs, etc.).
Kenny is a great kid with a compassionate heart, but is also a child lost in a world that often communicates in ways he is unable to understand (body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, metaphors, etc). Will you please consider helping Kenny and others at his school through a generous donation to The Community School today?
Thanks so much for your love and support,
Steve & Lee Busey