Retired Fort Bragg soldier: My autistic daughter is excelling thanks to NC grant, scholarship
By James Martin
My name is James Martin, and I am a retired Army combat veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.
I’d like to share my daughter Mia’s story with you.
She is an amazing 11-year old girl, who at age three was diagnosed with autism. Mia’s story is likely similar to others; she was going to public school previously, and let’s just say we had an “adventuresome” time with our IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meetings.
I remember walking in and there would be staff that we already knew were really challenged by my daughter. Even in a classroom with 15 kids, with a special education teacher and an assistant, my daughter was quite the handful.
She was quite a handful, but for good reasons. Ever school day my daughter was woken up about 5:30 in the morning and was on a bus by 6:30. I would then pick her up at about 2:30 p.m. so she can go get ABA therapy (Advanced Behavioral Analysis) at a clinic until about 6 p.m.
She was pulling 12- to 13-hour days, Monday through Friday, and doing it for four years. She needed more help.
We had to make a change, because her needs were not being met.
Last year we signed my daughter up for private school through New Leaf Academy. New Leaf Academy is unique in the sense that it is a clinic and a private school combined.
First Impressions Academy provides a special education teacher, and New Leaf Therapeutic Clinic provides the setting, a classroom of six kids with autism, coupled with six advanced behavioral analysis technicians and clinicians, and one special education teacher. That is a classroom of seven adults to six children.
She is absolutely thriving in this environment, like never before! When we transitioned from public to this private setting, she was at a 1st or 2nd Grade level, she should have been going into 6th. Now she is at a 4th-grade level.
Before she used to not enjoy going to school; now we use it as leverage to try and get her to go to bed early. “Hey, you want to go to school tomorrow?”
This environment is so unique, in the sense that they are not throwing the behavior on top of the education. It is the behavior and education, side-by-side simultaneously, Monday through Friday, and it is incredible.
We found a diamond in the rough in Fayetteville, North Carolina. It is the reason why as a retired Army Combat Veteran family, we are staying in North Carolina.
This is possible because of the North Carolina Children with Disabilities Grant and the Opportunity Scholarship Program. These grants and scholarships are so important because that’s $13,000 a year to send my daughter to this clinic and that's just the education portion.
If our state provides kids like mine the help they need right off the bat, while they are growing, while they are learning, while they are able to, then they will grow, and flourish and they will be brilliant and wonderful. If you do not, then you are going to pay for it on the back end.
I am grateful for the generous support from our state, and the help for these scholarships. More families like mine need the same support!