Gratitude for Attitude (School Update #2)

feet-2358333_1920As part of our effort to save the new building in Menlo Park for my daughter’s fabulous school, many of the parents wrote testimonials. After I helped Marina Vaserman, Director of Open Mind School, write a killer advocacy letter to the landlord, I wrote a testimonial too.

Later, after Marina thanked me for my help with the letter, she thanked me again. “Your testimonial made my day.”

“I was happy to do it. I’m so grateful that I found this school and that you were willing to accept Katie, specially because you will let her use history homework assistance.”

“Of course we would accept her! We love having Katie here.”

This statement, delivered so matter-of-factly, made me choke up. Marina and other staff have said it before, and each time, it takes my breath away. Because for ten years it was abundantly clear to me as well as my daughter that she wasn’t wanted in public school. Katie was granted space merely because the law compelled them to do so. Even then, Katie was kicked out of school three times. Yes, it’s illegal, but it happened. Another district counted the days until she left.

Apparently it never occurred to either of these school districts that their attitude may have had an impact on the situation at hand.

success-1433400_1280After experiencing both, I have to say, the difference between tolerance and acceptance is like the difference between night and day. You can feel it, see it, and taste it. There is truly no comparison.

You cannot fake acceptance. You either accept someone or you do not. And believe me, a person knows when you do not. They feel it in their bones.

I’m sad that Katie went ten years without experiencing educational acceptance, but now that we have found a school that offers it, we will never go back. There is too much at stake.

Not only is Katie accepted for who she is at Open Mind School, but she is presumed intelligent and capable—rather than “retarded,” “non-compliant,” and “unteachable.” My child has not changed. What changed is the attitudes and beliefs of those teaching her, and this has made a tremendous difference.

In just over seven months, going only part-time, Katie has made phenomenal progress. She prepared and delivered a PowerPoint presentation on Mission San Francisco di Asis (aka Mission Delores). She mastered addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. She wrote poetry and a research paper on ants. She learned science, art, history, geography, and civics. She has correctly answered comprehension questions on chapter books such as BFG, Charlotte’s Web, Island of the Blue Dolphins, and Wonder.

None of this would have been possible in public schools. I wish that were not the case, but sadly it’s true. In addition, Katie’s communication and social skills have improved. Her self-regulation and independence have grown exponentially. She’s mastering team sports such as volleyball and baseball as well as learning to swim. Any one of these things would be cause for celebration, but all of them? In seven months?

Most importantly, Katie no longer hates attending school. This has been the biggest change of all. It’s taken 13 years, but my child is finally learning to enjoy learning. After years of frustration, boredom, bullying, and lack of progress, that’s a beautiful thing.


In short, my daughter is thriving in her new environment. Open Mind School has given her not only the priceless gift of an education, but also a future filled with possibility.

Words cannot express my gratitude.

Until next time,

About Cynthia J. Patton

Writer, Editor, Advocate, Speaker, Special Needs Attorney, and Autism Mom. Also the Founder and Chairperson of Autism A to Z, a nonprofit providing resources and solutions for life on the spectrum.
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