There is no question that Wesley Colestock, age 6, is excited about school as he runs towards the big yellow bus. Without saying a word, he excitedly boards the bus which takes him from his home in Eaton Rapids to his school in Potterville, where he is attending a new program created for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
Eaton Regional Education Service Agency (RESA) instituted the first Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) program in Eaton County for the 2020 school year. There are currently seven students in the program with one teacher and two para pros, explained principal Michael McDonal.
The program is located in Potterville for two reasons, McDonal said. Classroom availability is one reason, of course, but part of their curriculum involves working on social skills, so immersing them with the general education population will help them model the behavior of their peers.
“The program is currently limited to those with the highest need, which is students who are five or six years old, in kindergarten through second grade,” said McDonal. “We do plan on expanding the program very soon for older students but have been slowed down by the Covid-19 situation,” he added.
The students attend one day in person and four days virtually. It is anticipated that this will increase to five days in person by the end of the school year.
“We were at the point last year that we were seriously considering putting our house up for sale and moving to a school district that offered the services that our son needs,” said Wesley’s mother, Kerry Colestock, “despite living here our entire lives.”
Wesley attended Lockwood Elementary in Eaton Rapids for general education last year, but he wasn’t getting what he needed, his mother explained.
“It just wasn’t a good fit,” she said, “He is non-verbal, and the general classroom was just too over-stimulating for Wesley.”
“I’m advocating for more than just accommodations, I’m advocating for my son’s quality of life. And I won’t give up,” she added.
Colestock spoke to several school board members last spring about her son’s situation. She was thrilled to learn that a new program was being developed this fall.
Wesley attends class in person one day a week and then has virtual at-home learning for four days. The at-home school time is hard on Wesley and his parents are adding more private therapy to his schedule to compensate at their own expense.
“We’re starting over again with a new place and new people. Add a pandemic and you get a crazy mom,” Colestock said. She looks forward to the in-person classroom days being increased as they have proven to be more effective with her son.
In 2020, the CDC reported that approximately 1 in 54 children in the United States is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. Boys are four times more likely to be diagnosed with autism than girls.
For more information about the program, parents are urged to contact their individualized education program (IEP) coordinator at their child’s school or their local special education department.