How Our World Opened Up
By Aki Yoshino, Franklin Academy parent
How did our Franklin Center story start? It began with my son, Kai. As a young child, he was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and also generalized anxiety disorder. We were working through our local public school with an IEP (individualized education plan). But by fourth grade it reached a point where every morning as we approached the doors — experiencing the smells, the noise, the crowded hallways – he would throw up.
I could see the physical toll it was taking. It’s heartbreaking to watch your child suffer. For each parent, and each child, there’s a line between resilience and suffering, and we had crossed that line.
Of course a million things go through your mind. Should I homeschool, should I find some other arrangement? What do I do?
I did what I call the “special needs parent frantic google search” for “autism school MN.” And the Academy of Whole Learning (as it was called) came up! I scheduled a tour and we went through the entire process.
As a mentor to new families who join our school, I tell them “You’re not going to see a ‘genie click’ the first week.” We certainly didn’t. It didn’t take him a whole year to stop throwing up, though! That ended pretty quickly, and then — he started to blossom.
Within the first year, Kai learned how to trust school again. In a public school, even with an IEP, there aren’t as many special accommodations made. No one could ever give Kai the space he needed at his old school.
At Franklin, he felt that these people were going to trust his boundaries. If he needed to take a step further, he could. It was so amazing to see him actually happy to go to school. And I was happier, too! My friends commented that I seemed so much more relaxed once Kai started going to Franklin!
The Friendship Factor
Everyone is different – we know that, and we live that daily! I know every family has to find their own path forward. For us with Franklin Academy, it went beyond the beauty of a small school. It’s a functional difference. Special education as a program was added onto an existing structure in most public and private schools. Franklin Academy was purpose-built for neurodiverse kids.
For example, in his former school, Kai would be mainstreamed half the day, then in special ed classrooms half the day. One of the things he needed more than anything was help building friendships. When you’re jostled around, an hour here, an hour there, you can’t form any meaningful relationships. At Franklin Academy, he was with the same group of kids all day. The teacher for his grade, Ms. Anita, really took the time to help the kids foster relationships with one another.
No More Being My Own Case Manager!
Another benefit was the integration with therapy. Once they opened Franklin Therapy and he could get therapy onsite, at school – that was life-changing. We had done therapy before, but I had to be the case manager, doing all the communication between multiple therapists and teachers: “Here’s what we worked on, could you use this language, give him these choices.”
With Franklin Therapy, Kai’s therapist would communicate directly with his teacher (with our permission, of course). Once school and behavior therapy and occupational therapy and home all started to sync up, it was amazing. Plus, the integrated approach takes a ton of pressure off the family. You can trust your kid is getting what they need. And you don’t have to keep taking them out of school!
Diligent Dedication Builds Confidence
Now Kai is doing things I always knew he could, but I couldn’t see the path forward.
One way we can see the change is his willingness for life to be more fluid. In the past, one of his rules was home is home; school is school. He couldn’t bring schoolwork home because you can’t mix the two together – it was worlds colliding! Now he can’t wait to tell friends or teachers about a home event, like a graduation party.
Another way he’s opened up is with food. In the past, he only liked about eight different foods, partially because of the anxiety of trying new things, partially because of texture. Now he’s open to eating so many more foods, we can actually go to a restaurant!
In fact, he’s so much better with new experiences we’re talking about getting passports and being able to travel! We might only go as far as Puerto Rico, but that’s a huge leap! His world has gotten so much bigger.
Proof in a Parachute
I remember one concrete example of his transformation. It was the last day of his first year at Franklin, which was 5th grade. The whole staff was outside with a parachute. It was a fun celebration, but for Kai it was too much: too new, too different, too loud.
Then came Covid, so no celebration. Then it was seventh grade. That year we tried two new things every day. It could be something small, like saying “good morning” to another student. Knowing that we were working on this as a family, the team at Franklin reinforced that by recognizing his success at trying new things, too – they celebrated it and they celebrated him, which built his confidence.
I had forgotten about the parachute tradition because everything had been disrupted through the pandemic. When I came to drop him off and saw the staff with the parachute, I asked if Kai wanted another plan. His response? “Oh no, mom, I’ve tried so many new things, I’ve got this.”
I don’t know another place that would be so diligent about helping him build this new practice of trying new things. It changed his world. He now knows he can try new things and be successful.
All of these steps are part of the process. When school can mirror home can mirror therapy, it’s life-changing. Tiptoe, tiptoe, tiptoe, making his world bigger and bigger, bit by bit.