In October 2010, we were delighted to welcome California Congressman Sam Farr to The Bay School. The Congressman learned more about the diverse needs of children on the autism spectrum, and about the importance of intensive, individualized treatment. The Bay School is one of The May Institute’s four special education schools for students with autism and other developmental disabilities.
Just as meaningful was the time he and those at the school had together that day.
“Congressman Farr visited each of our classrooms and spent time interacting one-on-one with students and staff,” explains Andrea Gold , Ph.D., BCBA-D, Executive Director of The Bay School. “He provided nice opportunities for the children to practice important skills like greeting responses and the give-and-take of conversation.”
He also spent time with one of our younger students who is non-verbal and has been learning language through picture identification. “It was wonderful to see her excitement when the Congressman praised her for correctly identifying an item on the page,” says Dr. Gold.
Later in the visit, this same little girl approached him. She has learned to use a special program on her iTouch (that works as an augmentative picture-to-voice output device) to communicate. She selects words and images, and the device “speaks” for her.
“Using her iTouch,” Dr. Gold continues, “she invited the Congressman to join her outside on the swing. He was clearly amazed by the use of this kind of device in the classroom. It was obvious he was quite taken with the students, as they were with him.”
While visiting with another student, Congressman Farr confided that he, too, struggled with a disability – dyslexia – when he was younger. He shared that information, he said, because “it would have encouraged me as a student to know that someone who started out as a doubtful student grew up to be successful in life.”
A student was intrigued and earnestly replied: “You have a disability? Well, then it’s good that you’re in school that helps people with disabilities!”
The students and teachers presented Congressman Farr with a book of artwork they had prepared in his honor. The book included a story written by 14-year-old Austin, who has attended The Bay School for two years. “When he first came to The Bay School, Austin ’s behavior was very challenging. It was hard for him when he didn’t know the answer or feel confident or competent in his ability to correctly complete a task,” says Dr. Gold. “Today, that challenging behavior has been significantly reduced and he is successfully managing his studies using grade-level curriculum.” Most important, Austin is a more confident and happy child.
In Austin ’s story about what The Bay School means to him, he writes, “I like cooking things like muffins, ice cream, pizza and rice krispies. Homework here is actually fun and I anticipate homework. This school is the best one I have ever been to.”
Congressman Farr followed his visit with a letter to the school. He shared that he “was very impressed with the work the school does with these special children. The information you provided is crucial to the work I do as a member of Congress. Thank you for giving me this extraordinary opportunity to spend time with your staff and students.”
It was a wonderful visit, and we look forward to welcoming the Congressman back to The Bay School.