Charlie’s Story of Moving from Isolation to Integration


See if this sounds familiar to you as a parent. Your child is doing well in school. They’re happy, they have a good group of friends, they seem to be able to keep up.

And then…things start to unravel.

In Charlie’s case, things started to go wrong in third grade. He’d been upbeat about school. Now he didn’t want to go. In fact, he asked to be home-schooled.

“We reached out to the teacher,” said his mom Jodie Shields, “but received little feedback.”

Still, her gut told her to keep pursuing the issue. They asked for an IEP evaluation. At the same time, Charlie was due for a neuropsychological evaluation. (Common protocol for children born with congenital heart defects who undergo surgery and have to be on bypass, as Charlie had.)

Although they knew his early health condition might lead at some point to learning differences, when they received the IEP evaluation, “we were shocked at the findings,” said Jodie.

No one had alerted them to daily happenings at school – crying, hiding in his cubby, negative self-talk, feeling left out, being bullied. “I had been asking for feedback,” Jodie said. “And none of that had come out. He had been through so much [on his health journey] with such a good disposition, to see that broken spirit was really upsetting.”

The combination of the IEP evaluation and the neuropsychological findings (dysgraphia, anxiety, and autism spectrum disorder) propelled the Shields to look for a place where Charlie could learn and thrive.

They scheduled a tour of Franklin Academy. “The place that gave us the neuropsychological exam thought Charlie was ‘too social’ for Franklin, which just shows old stereotypes about autism can stick around, even with medical professionals.”

After a shadow morning at the school, mom and son went to lunch together. “I asked him how it went and he said, ‘that was the best day I’ve had in a long time.’”

Building Skills & Confidence

“I don’t want him to go through the day feeling he is ‘other’ or different. He’s an amazing kid, with an incredible sense of humor, quick wit, very social. His calendar is busier than anyone in our family!” said Jodie.

That struggle comes up for parents when considering a specialized school. Will their child be too isolated from “every day” life? Will they feel “other” because they’re not in a typical school? (You can read more about that in “When Exclusive is Inclusive.”)

The Shields discussed that concern, as many parents do, and decided to enroll at Franklin Academy to give Charlie more structured, tailored support.

Now Charlie is feeling confident again, where he used to say he felt stupid.

“He has perseverance now, he believes in himself,” said Jodie. “They’re able to meet him exactly where he’s at. They identified a few holes in his 3rd grade math and they caught him up. Now he’s doing 4th grade and some 5th grade math.”

Beyond academics, Charlie is learning valuable skills. For example, at one point he was upset with a friend. “He’s not my friend anymore,” was his reaction – very black and white.

The teachers helped him think through what that meant to no longer be friends. How would they interact in class? What would they do each time they saw each other? Each student participated in a guided discussion with an adult to work through the issue.

“I think more people could use that!” said Jodie. “They’re teaching them how to have a difficult conversation. They’re helping them learn that conflict exists and then working with them on what that conflict looks like and having healthy discussions to work through it.”

Treating the Whole Person on One Campus

Another benefit of Franklin Academy is its co-location with Franklin Therapy. “Having a space that is so integrated – he goes to OT, to speech, mental health — and having all those professionals work together, including the teacher, is amazing,” said Jodie.

Not only is she not having to run from place to place to take him to different therapies, but the integration means he’s viewed as “a whole person in one spot; it’s not compartmentalized.”

The integration of approach is further integrated with communication. “The lines of communication are amazing and helpful,” said Jodie. “They let me know if something happened that same day.”

The holistic approach that goes beyond academics benefits the whole family. For example, “He gets hyper focused on certain topics or games. They encourage him to expand on that, versus shutting it down. So instead of talking constantly about his favorite game, they can help him think of other games or activities related to that favorite game. Seeing his ability to expand his horizons a little more helps with family harmony,” said Jodie. Especially with a sibling who might not want to know every detail of Pokémon!

The Parent Village

Beyond the immeasurable benefit of seeing your child succeed and be happy, beyond the daily ease of not driving from appointment to appointment, Franklin Center offers another parent benefit: the parent village.

“In public school, I felt this need to fit in. And we didn’t fit in. It felt kind of isolating,” is how Jodie put it. “Here it feels like we’re all a work in progress, all willing to support each other wherever we’re at. We all understand it’s not easy. Meeting other parents has been great in terms of feeling there’s a community. We’re good just how we are.”

If You Were Asked for Advice?

As is true for many Franklin Academy parents, once people knew they had switched schools, “It’s remarkable how many parents contacted me.”

What would Jodie say to other parents looking for input?

“Often we as mothers do a lot of advocating and research. And that’s absolutely worth doing. In the end, really trust your gut about what’s right for your child. That’s the best advice. What is going to work for my child? Try to keep the other voices out.”

“Trust you know what your child needs versus the labels. It almost doesn’t matter about the label (although it can help with resources). What does my child need to thrive, not just survive,” said Jodie.

And when it comes to the anxiety of possibly changing schools?

“We get so focused on there being one “right” choice. No one school is going to be perfect for every kid. Figure out how to best support your child in their current situation. It’s really hard not to think 5 steps in advance. Try to focus on what they need now and figure out what works best.”

And remember that a switch isn’t permanent. Changing schools doesn’t mean you close the doors in the future. Staying another year doesn’t mean you can’t change later. “Your child will evolve.”

If you’d like to learn more about Franklin Academy, let’s talk!