HOUSTON (FOX 26) - Locked inside. That's how many parents describe their child, who has autism. It's difficult to function in society, unless you can self-regulate, be able to handle what's bothering you - and then deal with those emotions. 1 out of 68 children is diagnosed with autism, many more than that have some type of neurological difference. Many parents say they finally have hope for their children because of a unique approach at Monarch School in Houston.
Educators at Monarch have learned that getting through to students emotionally opens their minds academically. "We start off the day, greeting them at carpool - start the day off positive, sometimes they've had a challenging morning at home it helps to talk to someone before they go into classroom, before the demands of that," explains Shivali Dhruv, who serves on the Integrative Learning practice team. She doesn't just work in one classroom, she helps throughout the campus. She serves on a team that is constantly available to help individually work with students in this non-restrictive environment.
Children in the Chrysalis Program at Monarch are learning to become more independent. They often work one-on-one, or in very small groups, with their teachers. Fox 26 Reporter Greg Groogan's son, Garrett, is a student here. He and his wife, Michelle, say Monarch is helping him excel. "Monarch has unlocked his world. Garrett before Monarch - to what he is now - it's like a world he was never able to access," exclaims Michelle.
After only one year, Garrett has learned how to connect with others, for the first time. His family says he now "wants" to communicate with others. Before, he relied on electronics to help him cope. "The world is not a big scary place for him anymore. He's actually realizing I have a place and I know how to use some of these things," says Michelle.
Instructors at Monarch do focus on academics, but Michelle says they do so much more. "At some point - I don't care about my son learning how to divide fractions or conjugate verbs. I see the importance of learning coping skills! Life is going to continue for him - there's employment and independent living to think about that Monarch is giving him! How are you going to handle yourself when the situation is getting a little stressful and before - you would explode and run away? That's not going to help you to have independence in this life," says Michelle. She goes on to say that Garrett didn't know how to tap into his coping skills before. Now, through new techniques he learns at Monarch, he can.
Andrea Chambliss feels the same way. She and her family moved all the way from California for her son, Nate. They felt he would have the best outcome through medical care and schooling in Houston. "At age three, we were told he might never speak and might need a device to help him speak, but fortunately through good therapists, he talks a lot now," exclaims Andrea Chambliss, Nate's Mother.
Nate has beat the odds and is able to communicate, verbally and non-verbally. "These are the years when we have a chance to make a difference for him, and I can't imagine not doing it," says Andrea.
The Head of School at Monarch enjoys witnessing the parallels of Mother Nature, as children in the Chrysalis program develop and grow and prepare to enter the Butterfly Program. "The students and their families are being transformed. We are being transformed! The professionals, working with them, see miracles every day," exclaims Debrah Hall, the Head of School at Monarch.
As for the future? "I don't know if he'll ever life in his own apartment or go off to college, but we're going to try, and he's going to have that opportunity," says Michelle. "I don't think there are any limits, I hope there aren't any limits," says Andrea. Nate often shares his emotions now, even sneaks in a kiss for his mom, who deeply believes in him, who makes personal and financial sacrifices for him to attend the school, just like so many other parents with children at Monarch.
Not every child qualifies to go to school at Monarch. They have to have some capacity to connect and share joy. Educators say if can see a sliver of that. they're willing to go on the journey and try to increase that.
For more information: monarchschool.org